The battle to read your mind best

Apple's answer to an increasingly solicitous Google Now is a more skillful Siri of its own.

At the company's Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) on Monday, Apple introduced a more advanced version of Siri for iOS 9 that comes with "proactive" personal assistant features -- like prompting you to resume a podcast you paused, or suggest calendar events based on the contents of your email.

Some overlap exists between the new capabilities in Google's Now on Tap for Android M and Apple's extended Siri, but there are differences as well. Mainly, the two battle to be the best at giving you the most relevant shortcut to the thing you want to do or know: background info on a TV show, weather advisories, reminders before you knew you wanted to set one.

There are a lot of detailed scenarios that would make an exhaustive list equally exhausting to read, but here's how they compare, roughly.

The new Siri and new Google Now, compared

The next generation of Siri will excel at original features, like rooting through your email to try to match a phone number to an unknown caller ("Deep caller ID" in the chart below), and gathering photos and videos that you may have taken on a specific day or place. For example, "Find all the photos I took in Turkey."(Siri searches dates, geotagged locations and album titles.)


Proactive SiriGoogle Now on Tap
Context-aware suggestionsXX
Complex video, photo searchX
Context-aware, location-based remindersXPartially
Information cardsXX
Playlist suggestionsXX
Auto-fill recipients for email and eventsX
Tell you when to leaveXX
Deep caller IDX
Prompts actions based on email contentXX
Surface contacts from search barXX
Collects background infoX
Travel help when you landX
Sharing shortcutsX
Siri will also suggest people to email or add to an event based on your patterns. For example, if you usually email the same five people in a group, iOS 9 will recognize your intentions and offer to auto-fill the rest of the names (my desktop Gmail does this, too).

In large part, Siri in iOS 9 will help bridge the features gap between it and the next version of Google Now. For instance, Siri surfaces "cards" that tell you the weather, sports scores, stocks, calculations and conversions, something that Google Now already has.

The same goes for showing you contacts when you start searching by name, like "John". (Siri, however, streamlines the latter by also making it easy to launch a phone call or text message.)

Once their new versions are released, Google Now and Siri will both offer some additional information when you call up their search functions. In iOS 9's Siri, that takes the form of Siri Suggestions of favorite apps you might launch or people you commonly call. Siri will also shortcut you to nearby places and headline news. It isn't clear how much these change on context, or if you'll see the same names each time.

In Google Now on Tap, the suggestions feature will dish up relevant actions or details pertaining to what's on the screen. That could equate to presenting buttons for sharing a story through social media (I called this "sharing shortcuts" in the chart), or creating a reservation if an email mentions a restaurant.

Google Now will also offer to set a reminder, and link to a Wikipedia entry on an actor or event. Since Google aims to be dynamic and context-aware, what you can do with Now on Tap totally depends on what you're doing.

Like Siri, Google Now also has its own unique tricks, like flagging gas stations as you return the rental car to the airport (Google already knows your flight, your car rental confirmation and your location), or recommending information and services if you change locations (e.g. weather information and a link to Uber if you need a ride).

In your business

Both Siri for iOS 9 and Google Now for Android M pack in specific scenarios for ways to preemptively lend a hand. But for me, the take-away message is this: to really make your life easier, these concierge services have to dig deep into your personal life -- your schedule, your contacts, your habits. To be truly useful, they must also learn and adapt over time.

The level of intimacy required to "get" you is a trade-off in privacy. Even helpful suggestions reflect the fact that Google and Apple already know so much about our daily lives. Both companies will need to address privacy issues, or else scare away concerned users.

Personally, I'm excited to pit the two against each other to see, but it's a showdown that in reality must wait until fall when the two launch in their fully grown forms. For now, matching up features will have to do.


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