by James A. Martin

Updated ‘Google Now’ on iOS Rivals Siri for Voice Commands

Nov 05, 20133 mins
AndroidiPhoneMobile Apps

Google Now, which is embedded in Google's Search app for iOS, just got a lot more useful on iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices. But it's still not as functional or feature packed as the Android version of Now.

Google Now is a valuable feature for Android devices that automatically displays context- and location-relevant information in “cards.” Waiting at a stop for the next bus? Google Now automatically pops up a card to show you when to expect your ride. 

Google Now is one of the true advantages of Android, in my opinion. Unfortunately, Google Now—which is integrated into the free Google Search iOS app—has been less useful on iPhones and iPads. Until this week.

On Nov. 5, Google released Google Search version 3.1.0, with plenty of new features. The updated app sends push notifications, a major enhancement. Say you have an appointment starting soon. If you entered the appointment address in your calendar, the Google Search app automatically notifies you when it’s time to leave, based on current traffic conditions. 

Google Now and Google Search iOS

The Google Search iOS app also serves up some new Google Now cards, including cards for movie, concert, and other event tickets, as well as airline boarding passes and rental car reservations. You can also get a card that tells you when the last train leaves that night for home. (I didn’t test this feature.) 

Google Search/Google Now prods you with a variety of reminders on iOS. You can already set reminders easily on your iOS device using Siri or in the Reminders app, of course. But with Google Now, you can get automatic reminders when new episodes of a favorite TV shows air or when new movies from a particular actor are released.  

The Google Search iOS app also has a new hands-free search option. As long as the app is open, you can prompt a search by saying “OK Google,” then speaking your command. While useful, the need to have the app open makes Google Search less valuable than Apple’s Siri, which is ready to answer queries regardless of where you are on your iOS device.  

Just for kicks, I asked Google Search and Siri the same five questions and commands. The results were even. Google Search couldn’t handle my request to send a text message to a friend, for instance, which Siri accomplished with aplomb. On the other hand, when I asked both “when is my next restaurant reservation?,” Google Search nailed it. Siri’s response? “I’m sorry, I couldn’t find a single restaurant matching ‘my next’ that takes reservations.” Doh. 

The Google Now feature isn’t as tightly integrated into iOS as it is with Android, and I doubt it ever will be. And Google already announced some new Google Now features with the imminent release of Android 4.4 (KitKat) that will up the Android ante once again. Even so, the updated Google Now feature in the Google Search app is a welcome addition to any iOS device.