Cortana’s learning the neighborhood. Google’s digital assistant can’t tell a joke. And Siri apparently has a thing for the metric system.
Those are just a few of the things I learned after staging a face-off between the three leading digital assistants. Apple’s Siri and “OK Google” – they’re not big on personification at Google – are now standard on smartphones; Microsoft recently added its Cortana service to Windows 10, so it works on PCs, too.
Now that just about anyone can talk to their phone or computer, we wanted to see what happens when you try.
Though none of the assistants are perfect, they do have distinct personalities, even if they’re just deliberate creations of their developers.
I asked the same 10 questions of each service, using an iPhone with Siri, a Nexus phone with Android’s “OK Google” and a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet with Cortana.
First up: Some basic factual questions. All three did pretty well when asked, “What’s it like outside?”
Cortana earned extra points for answering with a spoken weather report. Google and Siri each showed a screen image that listed current conditions and a forecast.
All three supplied President Obama’s age. When asked “What’s his wife’s name?” they all remembered that the question referred to the president, and correctly identified the First Lady: Michelle Obama.
Similarly, they all knew the length of the Golden Gate Bridge. But for some reason, Siri answered in meters, while Cortana and Google stuck to feet.
AT YOUR SERVICE
Next came more complicated tasks, like finding the nearest pharmacy. Google and Siri listed three within a half-mile of The Associated Press bureau in downtown San Francisco. But neither mentioned the drug store on the ground floor of the building where the bureau is located. Cortana did.
Posing questions is hungry work. I asked for help making a lunch reservation at Credo, a fancy restaurant around the corner. Siri and Cortana were stumped, but Google automatically fired up the Open Table app on the Nexus phone, with the form already filled out to make a reservation. Too bad the place is so trendy; it was booked for weeks.
JUST FOR LAUGHS
Finally, a personality test. I challenged each to tell a joke. Siri had the best answer: “If I told you a joke in my language, I’d have to explain it.”
When asked about the meaning of life, Siri and Cortana were both ready with a quip. Google just recited a dry definition that only a biologist could love: “Life is the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter. …”
All three services are good on factual questions. Siri’s programmers have the best sense of humor. Google stays focused on the task at hand. And Cortana is quickly catching up to both of them.