How Google Missed With Voice Actions

When Google launched Voice Actions a couple of years ago, I was really excited. I could do a Google search by voice, send a text, call someone, play music, or even email memos to myself. It was both fast and accurate – and why wouldn’t it be? Google has been gathering voice data for years through several services, including their free information line, GOOG-411. I was excited.

When Apple launched Siri just last year, I thought, “Great; another Google rip-off.” Then I started using it. I found that even if Voice Actions (VA) is more accurate, Apple wins this battle because it thought something through better than Google did: the user experience.

Don’t get me wrong. Google’s UX is generally very good. They have simple, slick interfaces (their iconic homepage, for example) and make their products easy to use and consistent. However, when it comes to VA, the capabilities are fairly limited, with little integration – and worst of all, there is a learning curve. In order for me to use Voice Actions, I need to know a small set of keywords. Granted, they are intuitive things like, “directions to” or “set alarm,” but it’s not all that natural sometimes. It also doesn’t talk back to you, which means that you need to be looking at the screen to make sure everything is done properly.

Compare that to Siri for the iPhone, which talks to you, integrates really well with the Calendar, Clock, Weather, and other apps, and allows for third party integration. When you use Siri, you don’t need to sound so robotic. If you want to set an alarm, you can say, “Set an alarm for 7am” or “Wake me up at seven.” Either one works. With Google Voice Actions, the latter will get you a Google search.

The same goes for weather. Siri allows you to say things like, “What’s the weather like?” and “Tell me the weather in New York.” Siri will then bring up the weather app, and say something like, “Not too bad today,” or “Looks like rain.” Either one of those on Android will bring you to a Google search. The search results are good – but they aren’t integrated and they don’t give you audio feedback.

Google Voice Actions and Siri Side-by-Side

Again, I’m not saying Voice Actions is bad. As I said earlier, it’s is very accurate. As a matter of fact, it’s much more accurate than Siri is – and that’s with 40 years of DoD research behind it. When I did a search on both for, “How long is the Las Vegas Strip?” VA got it right, but Siri thought I was saying, “Las Vegas trip.”

And this is where most of my argument stems from. Google released something first and it is much more accurate, but Apple did it better in two more important aspects: UX and marketing. Android users I talk to that aren’t as tech-savvy I am either don’t even know Voice Actions exists, or never use it because they think it’s just for Google searches. Google had the foresight to know that voice recognition would be a big thing years ago – just as they did with mobile in general – but they failed to properly execute it because they don’t advertise. (That, fortunately, has changed over the last couple of years.)

As much as I’m bothered by Apple, it completely won this round. It might have been late to the market compared to Google, but it did it right with the full device integration and actually telling people that Siri is there to use. What upsets me is that when Google releases “Voice Assistant” (rumor has it sometime this year), people will think Google are the ones ripping off Apple.

I guess that’s why competition is healthy though. Without Siri, Voice Actions may have gone untouched.

Conclusion

Google Voice Actions was first to market and was pretty great for being a first try on the market and an integrated voice recognition app. On top of that, it’s very fast and very accurate. However, Google let the app stagnate a little bit and didn’t really think the UX through. Apple, on the other hand, really considered how people would be using Siri, integrated it very well into iOS, and told people it was there.

So Google really missed the mark on Voice Recognition apps. I hope the new iteration, Voice Assistant, can fix that because Google does it really well, and has the great potential to blow Siri out of the water.