I read the news that Cortana is set to launch in Android at the end of June and in iOS later this year and wondered whether that should be exciting or not. As a strategy to provide cross platform services, Microsoft has been rolling out some of her products to rival platforms. For example Microsoft Office Mobile has been introduced to both iOS and Google Play.
Cortana will launch as a separate App in Google Play able to provide services like reminders, track flights and send relevant updates to users. Cortana will be able to provide you with “access to things like your OneDrive pictures, including offering automatic backup to your account from your phone. You can also find the music you store on your OneDrive account in the app, and more”, wrote TechCrunch in the wake of the announcement.
Once Cortana arrives on Android, will there be sufficient reasons to abandon Google Now and go straight to Cortana? Or will there be a reason to even run the two personal assistants side by side? I asked myself these questions and that’s why today I decided to test Cortana against Android’s Google Now. I could have tested her against Siri but no, I don’t have an iPhone nor can I access one immediately.
Not all of the tests are indicative of true performance as Google Now was running on the unreliable and floppy Safaricom Internet while Cortana was using the seamless Airtel Internet – the Internet performance are as at my place of residence. Also, Google Now has been tested on the Safaricom Neon Smart tab that has half the RAM size compared to Microsoft Lumia 640 from which I tested Cortana.
In the three tests I asked questions meant to gauge the two PAs on 1. Scope of knowledge, 2. Speed of execution and 3. Phone operations. It happened that Google Now was able to beat Cortana in all of them. Below is a brief description of each of the three tests.
1: KNOWLEDGE AND RELEVANCE
To test knowledge, I asked Cortana and Google Now several questions such as “What causes Malaria”, “Who is the leader of Andora” and “What is the future of smartphones”. In all of these questions, Google Now was more comprehensive.
In the question, “Who is the leader of Andora?”, Cortana did not understand me at first so I had to repeat the question two more times. Google Now however got it right the first time and read out an answer from BBC about Antoni Marti saying “According to BBC, Antoni Marti took over as head of government after his Democrats for Andora coalition heavily defeated the incumbent Social Democratic Party (PS) in an early parliamentary election.” Dec 23, 2011.
The first two times Cortana thought that I had asked her, “Who is the leader of Pandora?” and even so didn’t read out any answer but provided several links on Bing as possible answers. When she finally got it, she only read out “Antoni Marti” as the answer. On the question of “What causes Malaria”, Cortana didn’t even bother to say anything but Google Now told me, “Here is information from NHS Choices”.
I also asked them, “Where am I”? Google Now answered, “Here is a map of Racecourse, Nakuru Kenya”. Cortana on the other hand said, “You are located at street in Nakuru”. When I opened both maps, they were both correct as to the location of my house, but I guess the voice by Google Now was more of what I would have wanted to hear as it had the words Racecourse Nakuru.
I also asked them, “How far is Nakuru from Nairobi?” Google Now answered, “The drive from Nakuru to Nairobi is 159.7 kilometers” with a direction map included. Cortana never understood Nakuru as she kept on typing “how cool”.
Finally I asked them, “What is the weather like outside?”. Google Now answered, “It is 21 degrees with thunderstorm in Nakuru”. Cortana said, “Right now, it is 22 and cloudy”. Cortana was more accurate as it was indeed cloudy with no thunderstorm. Earlier though, Cortana had said it was clear when it was already cloudy.
On test one, it is clear that Google Now beats Cortana hands down.
2. SPEED OF EXECUTION
I asked several random questions ranging from “Where is” to “Where can I buy pizza”. Each time, I timed the PA from the time I started framing the question to the time I received the first audio feedback from the PA. On average, it took Cortana seven seconds to listen, digest, and provide feedback. On the other hand, it took Google Now 5 seconds for the same. However, variance in Cortana’s different results was small compared to the variance in Google Now’s timing. I attribute the large variance for Google Now on the fluctuating Safaricom Internet.
I believe that if I gave the two girls the same Internet access, it could still be said that Google Now beats Cortana hands down.
3. PHONE OPERATIONS
“Send a message to mom saying I’m sorry”. “Remind me to send an email to Bob at 8 pm”. “Play my favorite music”.
Those were the commands I issued to the two PAs. In the first command, Google Now responded, “Who is mum?” with the message “I’m sorry” ready to be sent. Cortana on the other hand responded, “Okay, what’s your mom’s name?”. I liked Cortana on that one. She also got the spelling of mom correct.
In setting reminder, both perform basically the same but for some weird reason I liked Cortana as she is more personal than Google Now. Both set the reminder accordingly but asks you to confirm if the time is right. You can press Remind or edit the time by pressing on the screen or just issue further voice commands e.g. by saying Okay.
I don’t have music stored in both phones so when I told the PAs to play my favorite music, Cortana searched for “Play my favorite music” on Bing whereas Google Now searched for “Jonh Coltrane My Favorite Things” on YouTube. When I did the same thing with Google Now a year ago on a phone that had several songs, she was able to play my most played music from the list. I don’t know whether Cortana is capable of that.
Here, Cortana is slightly ahead of Google Now due to the personal touch.
The two ladies are nice, but Google Now is nicer. Google Now has more online knowledge and is able to deliver the most relevant results. Although Cortona is more friendly in response especially on phone operations, the two ladies basically do the same things. It is just that Google Now wants to be too professional when it comes to phrasing her words whereas Cortana wants to talk to the heart. The fact that Google Now beats Cortana in at least two key tests means there is nothing to be excited about with the news that Cortana will be available on Google Play as from end of next month.
One more thing, Cortana lacks the cards – you know, those Google Now cards that always know exactly what you want to read or do just at the right time? Yap those ones. Google Now cards is a propriety product so don’t expect it to come in Cortana or even Siri any time soon.