Google Search 4.0.0 for iOS adds conversations, embarrasses Siri

Google's Search app just got smarter and it puts Siri to shame. The updated app is more conversational and inherits some new features from Google Now.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor
(Screenshots: Jason O'Grady)

The Google Search app (free, App Store) for iOS was updated today to version 4.0.0 with several new features. It's now more conversational, meaning that if you touch the microphone icon and say “Ok Google” – a feature borrowed from Google Now – the app will pay attention to several different queries in succession, rather than treating each like an individual Google Search. 

In the example posted in the release notes (see below), you can touch the microphone and say the following as three separate commands:

  1. "Ok Google" – to initiate a query
  2. "What's the weather like?" – resulting in today's weather, then
  3. "What about this weekend? – resulting in an extended weather forecast. 

Previously, you'd have to structure each as a unique search query, and the absence of the term "weather" in the second would flummox the app. 

The Google Search app also adopts other features from Google Now in the form of cards that appear that the bottom of the app related to previous search terms. In the right screenshot (above) you can see a card about The Avett Brothers, because I've previously searched for the band's tour dates. The updated iOS app also adds Cricket sports cards Google Now cards, faster load times and more fluid results from Google images. 

What's astounding is how far the Google Search app has come and how woefully inadequate Apple's built-in Siri has become. I've had the Google Search app on my iPhone and iPad's home screen for more that a year and I've relegated Siri to a glorified cooking timer - one of the few things that it does well.

Apple has a rocky history with Siri. It acquired Siri Inc. in 2010, removed it from the App Store, and released a sanitized version in 2011 alongside iOS 5 and the iPhone 4S. The new version of Siri was a crippled version of the independent app that had less features and Apple's been painfully slow in restoring features to Siri that were available prior to 2010. 

In March 2012 a class action lawsuit was filed against Apple on behalf of customers who felt misled about Siri's capabilities because it didn't provide features depicted in Apple's television commercials. In the commercials, Apple demonstrated Siri responding to questions with capabilities that weren't actually available in the product. (The lawsuit was later dismissed).

Then Apple chose corporate infighting over usability when it replaced Google with Bing as the default Siri search engine in iOS 7. Apple chose to "go thermonuclear" on Google because of its Android spat at the expense of usability for its customers. Luckily, you can still use Siri to search via Google if you append "Google" to your query. 

The icing on the cake for me happened back in March 2014 when I asked Siri a seemingly simple query: "When is Mother's Day?" to hilariously erroneous results:

Siri can't even get Mother's Day right! - Jason O'Grady
(Screenshot: Jason O'Grady)

Siri told me (multiple times, by the way) that "Mother's Day is on Sunday, March 15, 2015." Google Search (and even Windows Phone Cortana) got that one correct. Mother's Day was on May 11 this year. 

Until Apple figures out what to do with Siri, it doesn't even compare to the Google Search app.

Following are the release notes for Google Search 4.0.0:

With today’s update, you can ask questions with your voice & get updates on topics you care about.

Have a smarter conversation with Google:
• Tap the microphone or say “Ok Google” to start
• Ask questions such as “What’s the weather like?”
• Then follow up with “How about this weekend?”

At Google, we know the web well. With Google Now, we’ll tell you when there’s an interesting article for:
• Your favorite topics
• Your upcoming trips
• Your favorite authors and blogs

Smaller updates include:
• Cricket sports cards in Google Now
• Faster loading of Google Search and Google Now
• More beautiful and fluid image results

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