Back in October 2011, Apple
(NASDAQ:AAPL) unveiled a new way for iPhone users to interact with their devices. Rather than painstakingly type questions and commands into a search bar, Cupertino took a cue from Android's
(NASDAQ:GOOG) Voice Commands and introduced a voice-activated assistant, Siri. The new assistant, however, one-upped Apple's Mountain View competitor by allowing for some "fuzzy language." Whereas Android's earlier versions of Voice Commands limited you to very specifically worded prompts, Siri could invoke a weather forecast, for example, with prompts like "Siri, show me the weather," or "What's the weather like today?"
Siri promised a bold, versatile, and -- most importantly -- fun way to interact with our devices. However, for many -- even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak
-- the results didn't meet Apple standards.
Cut to June 2012. Apple took a giant step away from Google integration with its mobile devices and showed off the new Apple Maps app. Introducing turn-by-turn navigation, real-time traffic updates, and spoken directions, the new software sported smooth, vector-based graphics and integrated reviews from Yelp
Apple Maps was to revolutionize the iPhone's mapping and navigation power and completely destroy users' need or desire to use Google Maps. However, for many -- even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak
-- the results didn't meet Apple standards.
In the latter case, Apple Maps ended up being one of the company's biggest and most embarrassing flops, ranking somewhere between Ping
. Entire cities went missing, bridges rippled like water, and folks nearly died
by following its directions. It forced CEO Tim Cook to apologize and actually provide workarounds for the Safari-version of Google Maps. But upon seeing the half-baked release firsthand, iPhone users begged and pleaded for the return of a standalone Google Maps app on their devices. And soon enough, by December, Google Maps returned and there was much rejoicing.
As for Siri, despite years of development, Apple's voice assistant is still, at best, tolerable and, at worst, extremely frustrating. Basic functionality like setting alarms and checking the aforementioned weather work on a consistent enough basis, but fact-finding searches are woefully hilarious (depending on your sense of humor).
And this week, like Google Maps' triumphant return to the iPhone, Mountain View has bested Cupertino on its own turf once again.
Yesterday, the virtual assistant Google Now went up on the iTunes Store and gave iPhone users a preferable alternative to Siri's poor administrative duties. Replicating much of the functionality from Android devices, Google Now automatically displays info cards based on your location and activity in your Google account. While the info cards and amazing voice search engine remains, Google Now can't control actions on your iPhone device -- such as timers, emails, texts, etc. -- like it can on Android, it won't provide a homepage widget (Apple doesn't allow them), and it can't be invoked by long-pressing the iPhone home button.
But even with its limitations, Google Now search results trounce Siri's. As we've seen in demonstrations which pit Google Now against Siri
on two different devices, Google's results on the iPhone are still quicker and more accurate than Siri's.
On my wife's iPhone 4, I opened Google Now and asked when William Shatner was born. In a little over a second, I was shown a card with his photo and birth date and was read the results. When asking Siri the same question, after a six-second delay, I was told she couldn't find a "William Shatner" in my wife's contacts and was asked if I meant a different William that we know. After it took me a second to realize that Siri needed a response, I replied "No," she said, "OK," and that was the end of the exchange.
Like any device on any operating system, third-party apps are often better equipped to handle our day-to-day needs than the default ones provided by the manufacturer. But what's astounding and pretty hilarious (again, depending on your sense of humor) is that Google has developed so many iPhone apps which are superior to Apple's own offerings.
Aside from Google Maps and Google Now, many users would sooner tap on Gmail, Google Chrome, and Google Drive than the apps Apple would much rather you use, and the result is completely antithetical to Apple's insistence of a controlled ecosystem and specific apps within a walled garden.
Google apps are besting the iPhone's default software, and Apple has to grin and bear it.
But where does that leave Apple? Take, for example, a recent rumor that made the rounds two weeks ago. There was word that Apple would be teaming up with Yahoo
(NASDAQ:YHOO) in an effort to distance itself from Google. After the laughter subsided, the user base wiped its eyes and said, unequivocally, "No thanks."
For many, search, email, Web browsing, and -- as we've seen with Apple Maps -- mapping software are Google's specialties and to deviate from those standards would be a loss in functionality. That isn't to say that a viable competitor couldn't (or shouldn't) emerge, but as we've seen with recent attempts, Google's head start in these arenas give it an edge that can't be improved upon or even replicated.
So when iPhone users gravitate toward Google apps and cry foul when they're removed, Apple is pretty much stuck. A tightly controlled walled garden doesn't matter when default services are being avoided for a single third-party developer and any attempts to distance itself from that developer would only infuriate a very vocal user base.
If Apple wants a happy iPhone user, it better keep those lower-case Gs right where they are.
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