Google Assistant began life as an exclusive feature for Google Pixel phones. But now it’s slowly starting to spread its wings. First, modern Android devices running Marshmallow and Nougat got it, and now it’s available as a standalone app for the iPhone (in the U.S.).
It’s no secret that when it comes to online services, Google is much better at it than Apple. And when MKBHD compared Siri on iOS vs Google Assistant on Android, Google Assistant threw quite a lot of punches. But how does Google Assistant work on the iPhone? What exactly does it do? And is it worth your time?
Setting Up and Using Google Assistant on iPhone
Setting up Google Assistant on iPhone is really easy. If you already use a Google app on your iPhone and you’re logged in, you’ll see an option to continue with the same account. You’re then taken to Google Assistant’s conversational interface. This is similar to Siri, only with less of a The Dark Knight feel and more of a daytime talk show vibe.
There’s a microphone button at the bottom. Tap it and start talking to your assistant. As the speech recognition engine is backed by Google it’s actually really good at picking up what you say (although as it’s U.S. only right now, there’s no option to change the language). That’s mostly what Google wants you to do with this app: talk, explore, get answers, do things.
Google Assistant has another party trick up its sleeve. Tap on the faded keyboard button in the bottom-right and up pops the keyboard. You can now type to Google Assistant and ask for help when you can’t summon it with your voice (something you can’t do with Siri).
You’ll see a floating Assistant icon in the top right. Once you tap it you’ll find the Explore and My Stuff tabs. Explore tab lists things you can ask Assistant to do for you and My Stuff lets you view your reminders, agenda, shopping list and shortcuts all in one page. To go to Settings or Account, tap on the three-dot menu in the top-right. The Flash Briefing feature is also present but you need to enable new sources from Settings first.
Google has also made it easy (well, as easy as it can be) to start talking to Google Assistant. If you have an iPhone 6s or above, you can just 3D Touch the Assistant app icon and tap on the widget to start talking to Assistant. You can also add the widget to your Today View to start talking to it directly from the Lock screen.
Siri Has Home Field Advantage
Siri is integrated into iOS. It has system level access to your data, it can perform system level tasks and is accessible from anywhere. Google Assistant has none of those privileges.
You can just press and hold the Home button on your iPhone to talk to Siri. If you’re using iPhone 6s or above, you can even set up “Hey Siri” functionality that lets you talk to Siri without even touching your phone. To talk to Google Assistant, you have to unlock your iPhone and at least tap once (even if it is to 3D Touch the app icon from your Home screen).
And once you start talking to Assistant, Siri’s home field advantage just grows. If you’re like me, you use Siri to run iPhone errands for you. Calling someone, leaving someone an iMessage, setting an alarm, opening apps, toggling settings, adding things to Reminders app, and so on.
It’s these system-level tasks where Google Assistant doesn’t do so well or outright fails. When you ask Assistant to call someone for you, it will throw up a popup that you need to tap before it can connect the call for you. Sending an iMessage isn’t possible. Neither is setting an alarm, changing settings or controlling HomeKit accessories. You can ask Assistant to remind you about something but it won’t add it to the Reminders app — it will be stored in your Google account instead.
Google Assistant Is Great for All Things Google
Then what is Google Assistant actually good for? Searching for one. And because Siri integrates with Bing search, these are exactly the things Siri isn’t so good at.
Whether it’s asking difficult time zone conversion questions, looking for a restaurant nearby, doing complex math, looking up trivia, or just looking at pictures of cats, Assistant does it right, almost every time.
Google is also better at follow up questions and remembering the context. You can ask Google how far a city is and what’s the temperature there without repeating its name.
Then there’s the extended Google apps and services family. If you’re one of those people who use Google’s suite of products on iPhone (Google Maps, Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Keep, etc.) you’ll find that Google Assistant is actually helpful.
You can ask Google for directions to a place and they’ll open directly in Google Maps. And then there are some things you don’t even need to open the specific apps for. Just tell Assistant to send a mail to one of your contacts and it’ll be drafted right there. You can also directly add events to your Google calendar from here. The same goes for adding things to your shopping list.
But there are also some weird outliers. When I asked Assistant to play YouTube videos, it opened YouTube website in Safari instead of the YouTube app. I also wasn’t able to get it to play songs in Play Music.
A Note About Privacy
Google Assistant records your voice and sends it to its servers. If you give it permission, it also records the location where you interacted with it. Plus, some functionality requires you to give it access to your contacts.
Rest assured that as Assistant is an app, it can’t access any of your personal details stored in the device or specific features that you don’t give it access to. If you’re not comfortable with Google accessing your location, recording your voice and the conversation data, you should stay away from the Assistant app.
Should You Be Using Google Assistant on iPhone?
Google Assistant isn’t a replacement for Siri on the iPhone. Overall, Google Assistant might be a better voice assistant. But on the iPhone, it can’t hold a candle to Siri. Because Siri is a default, it’s not a fair comparison.
If you’re a prolific user of Google’s services, it might be worth looking into Google Assistant. Right now the iPhone app can only perform a subset of tasks compared to its Android counterpart. But it’ll only get better.
For specific things like searching for answers, and interacting with Google services, it is better than Siri. But if you’re all in on Apple and use iCloud services, Google Assistant might not be that useful for you.
The Future of Google Assistant
Google Assistant just made its way to the iPhone and it’s only available in the U.S. right now. Broadly speaking, Assistant is still new. Until a couple of months ago, it was exclusive to Pixel devices, Google Home and Google Allo app.
Google is good at making small and consistent improvements to its software (a skill Apple should learn). And Google Assistant is at the beginning of that process. In the next few months, Google Assistant will get a lot more interesting, and a lot more useful — even for iPhone users.
Just like Amazon Alexa, Google will add third party developer integrations. This will open up a whole new world of interaction. Google’s augmented reality feature, Google Lens, is also coming to Google Assistant in a couple of months.
Do you find Google Assistant’s capabilities useful enough that you’ll start using it?
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