There is a new kid on the block, and her name is Cortana. Earlier this morning Microsoft released Windows Phone 8.1 for developers around the world. Included in that update is their new virtual assistant that they hope will compete with the likes of Google Now and Siri. Google has a huge head start when it comes to providing information to users, but Microsoft is not a company to take lightly. How does Cortana stack up against the mighty Google Now? Let’s take a look.
The main feature that makes Google Now so great is all the information it can give you before you ask for it. Cortana also has this feature, which puts it in direct competition with Google. Cortana can give you information about news you’re interested in, sports scores, local weather, traffic, nearby events, and more. Google Now can do all of these things as well. They both have useful information at the ready, but it’s displayed in very different ways.
Google Now displays things in cards. If you want to adjust how an item is displayed you tap the three dots icon in the top right. If you want to remove a card from your list you just swipe it away. Cortana separates things into categories with separation between them. You can tap a button to “see more” or “hide” the information. Whether or not you like the design of one more than the other will depend on your personal taste. If you like Android’s design you will definitely be favoring Google Now.
The biggest consumer-facing feature of these two services is the voice search. This is the one thing that people just love to play around with. Siri is playful and funny, but she doesn’t provide much useful information. Google Now and Cortana can do a lot more for you. They help you get things done quickly and easily by just talking. In order to test the voice search for these two services I created a list of 14 common questions you might ask.
- What is the forecast for this weekend in Boston?
- Set a reminder to feed the dog at 5pm
- set an alarm for 8:30 am
- Play Daft Punk
- where is the nearest McDonald’s
- find me coffee nearby
- Open Twitter
- how far is it to cheddar’s?
- when is my next appointment
- show me nearby events
- show me photos of bunnies
- Did the tigers win yesterday?
- when do the red wings play?
- How old is Barack Obama?
As you will see in the video posted above, the results to these questions were fairly similar. In some cases Google Now was faster, in other cases Cortana was faster. The information given was also a bit different since they are using different search engines. One thing Cortana was better at was helping you take action after the initial query. For example, you can just say “yes” to setting a reminder instead of tapping an extra button. At the end of the day I was able to get the answer I needed 9/10 from both services. You should have no trouble with either one.
Surprisingly, Microsoft has done an excellent job with Cortana in this initial beta release. They have already been able to do almost everything that Google has done. The battle for virtual assistants just got very interesting. Microsoft will continue to improve Cortana as time goes on, as will Google with search. There is one thing that we can know for sure from this comparisons: Siri is in trouble.