Thursday, August 27, 2015

Who’s the best PA after all??

A take on Cortana vs Siri vs Now!!

The battle of the digital assistants is back, with Microsoft releasing a new version of Cortana in the latest Windows 10 Build. With Apple presenting the iOS 9 with an improved Siri, it was expected that Microsoft will push itself back into the race, with a more helpful Cortana. With each passing year, the digital assistant war shifts priorities from the precision of the results provided to how inconspicuously your digital life can be managed by your assistant with minimal supervision.

Each digital assistant has its own agenda. One of the primary advantages Siri poses is the interface where she quietly works behind the scenes. The integration of Siri with the iOS is incredible. Her providing results of what you think, even before you request her for it, seems like pure magic the first few times. It defines the direction we head to in an era with digital assistants, where she plays out your exercise beats once you enter the gym, launches the Apple pay app when you approach the pay counter at the groceries and knows what you want without being explicitly told. One of the biggest features coming to iOS this year is intelligence. With iOS 9, iPhones and iPads are getting more capabilities and smarter processing, based on what Apple is calling "proactive assistance." Siri and Spotlight on iOS 9 work together more tightly than ever before, and Apple says they are the backbone to the underlying recommendation system behind iOS 9's new smarts. 

Google Now has quite a different approach where in a set of cards are provided for each search. Once configured, each set of cards, appear with a list of options alongside it giving the user the choice to filter the cards provided as per requirement. Currently judged the best among the three, Google Now does an incredible job of giving the user options to fine tune what he/she views, keeping in mind previous searches, telling the user when to leave for the next appointment and providing notifications on the Chrome browser on the desktop. All this is done with a commendable connecting of dots by going through emails and calendar synced with the Cortana app, estimating the traffic and time taken through Maps and finally giving the user a reminder for the time to leave for the appointment. Keeping in mind your current location and your interests, it also gives places to visit nearby and restaurants to dine out.

On triggering the Search app, Cortana provides a one-page summary in a card-like fashion of what she thinks is of priority to the user. The new Cortana looks really great, and with Microsoft fixing the few bugs that have crept into the latest build, she definitely puts herself at par with the others in the race. Bills to be paid, game scores, local weather were all arranged in a summary in this lovely UI. Cortana scores with her personal touch in this build, where you actually feel there is a mind working somewhere behind the screen. The latest build gives very neat and organized look, and a connectivity between your PC, tablet and phone.

Cortana’s Key New Features

·         Your Microsoft account helps keep your personal assistant connected to you across device experiences, whether on your PC, phone or Xbox One. Cortana’s Notebook will be available across your devices to keep track of details important to you. Cortana only knows what you want her to know and you are fully in control of how you use her across devices.

·         On Xbox One, Cortana knows your friends and makes it easy to invite them to play with you through simple voice commands. If you want to record and share a clip of your game play, you can use Cortana to precisely control the length of the recording and quickly share it with your friends without leaving your game. Cortana will also help you find information about games, such as the release date of an upcoming game, or help you get achievements by surfacing videos and information to help you succeed.

·         On your Android phone you can ask Cortana to remind you to walk the dog at 8pm in the evening, and then when you’re watching a movie your Xbox will interrupt playback to let you know it’s time to take the dog out.

New in the Competition

News is that Yahoo hinted that the firm might compete with voice-based virtual assistants in the future with its own search-based mobile offering.  It is worth mentioning that Yahoo has already taken a step towards offering a virtual assistant product with its Aviate launcher, which learns user's behaviour and shows up content and apps most relevant to the user at that point of time in the day. Of course, the app has a long way to reach the likes of Siri, Google Now and Cortana. Recent reports also indicate the firm will unveil a messaging app later this quarter, a video-focused product that will take on popular rivals like Skype and Snapchat. The unnamed messaging app is said to be the first product under CEO Marissa Mayer.

Soundhound announced the beta launch of Hound, a voice-enabled search assistant that responds to more queries, more quickly, than any of its competitors. The company also announced the private beta launch of Houndify, a developer platform that will give companies the chance to add its services or information to Hound. The announcement included word that Expedia, the travel booking service, has already partnered with Hound to enable users to book flights and hotel rooms using Hound. Hound will be in for a fight to build awareness for this new service. Apple, Google and Microsoft have all invested heavily both in developing their voice features, and carving out space for Hound and Houndify will be a challenge. However the makers think the quality of his product will make the difference.

In Conclusion

It’s hard to say one personal digital assistant is the best for you because basically your personal digital assistant choice will be dictated by whether you buy an Android phone or a Windows Phone or an diPhone – neither personal digital assistant is available on the other’s hardware. However, feature-for-feature, Microsoft’s Cortana comes in ahead of Google’s Now. The level of control and personalization Cortana offers is far superior to anything Now has. Microsoft clearly knows that while personal digital assistants are still somewhat of a novelty for now, they are certainly the future of computer interaction as our devices get smaller and more wearable. Voice will eventually be the only input method of many of our wearables and the company is clearly positioning itself to be the leader in where human/computer interfaces are going.

All in all, with each of them vying to be the perfect digital assistant, we can expect much more improvements ahead. On the flip side, what’s left to be found out is how much of our personal details are being compiled in the cloud or digital database for the purpose of our digital assistance.