Google Now, Siri and Cortana are still far from useful

The launch of iPhone 4s brought with it Siri that became a revolution in the smartphone use. When I showed my wife videos of Siri at work, she remarked, “Are you sure those are real? Are you sure they are not video tricks?” To show her that the videos were real, I downloaded an Android digital assistant to my the then new Samsung Galaxy S II and talked to her (the Assistant) in a number of ways including:

Me: Hello, I am hungry.

Assistant: Pulls a list of  nearby hotels

Me: I don’t have money to go to those hotels

Assistant: Then you are not hungry, Odipo.

In addition to that humour, we were able to ask Assistant to tell us a few jokes, some of which were truly hilarious. I played with the Assistant for a few weeks, then Google Now was launched. Shortly before the launch of Google Now, I remember telling my wife that the digital assistants available at that time were not useful, that we should wait for Google to introduce hers – and it didn’t take long before I was able to put Google Now to test.

Google Now is still the only digital assistant that is able to predict what might interest you at an any particular time. Although as Kenyans we are unable to enjoy some features of Google Now like alerting us from no where that the train we are waiting for is 5 minutes late, but we can still be able to access her for latest news that she thinks could be interesting. I use it a lot for that.

But these digital assistants are capable to do a lot more than just telling us the current weather or providing a list of news items we should read. You can tell Google Now or Siri or Cortana to send a text message to Sweetheart telling her that you’ll be home late, or ask them to wake you up at 6 in the morning, or to remind you to pick up Tim from school at 4.30 pm. But hardly no one uses them for these functions, hardly anyone I have come across.

The reason you do not ask Google Now to call Peter or Jane is because talking to her is simply weird. Google Now, Siri and Cortana are still unable to naturally respond to conversations, or provide help in a manner that feels like interacting with a natural human being. For Google Now, Siri and Cortana to be truly useful, here are a few ways they should interact with us:

Me: Google, please call mom

Google Now: Your mom should be on any moment?

Me: Okay, thank you.


Google Now: Sir, you have an email from Ken

Me: What does he want?

Google Now: He says you should call Mr. Ralf about the discount he requested.

Me: Please call Ralf and put him on loud speaker.

Google Now: Calls Ralf


Me: Google I feel a bit low, can you help?

Google Now: Maybe you should join your friends at NNP, they are having lots of fun right now

Me: Which friends?

Google Now: Names a few

Me: Okay, send them a text and tell them I’m on my way.

Today, if you tell Google Now that you are bored, she will simply pull up a list of websites featuring the search term “I am bored”. Not so useful.


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