If it wasn’t official before, it is now. Smartphones have become an integral part of our personal and business lives. According to the latest COMScore report, 182 million US citizens owned smartphones (that’s 74.9% market penetration) during the three months ending in December 2014, up 4 percent from the previous three months ending in September, 2014. Apple lead hardware market share with 41.6%, but Android lead OS market share with 53.1%, and Microsoft trailed far behind with 3.4% OS market share.

Among those 182 million US users are small business owners, who are reaping significant time and money savings due to efficiencies related to mobile devices. An October 2014 AT&T Small Business Technology Poll found that small business owners report that their mobile devices save them collectively nearly 2 billion hours annually, and that mobile apps save them almost 600 million hours annually. And, according to the study infographic, 94% of small business owners use smartphones to conduct business, and 55% report that their mobile devices save them 3 or more hours of work a week.

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What kinds of devices are helping generate increased small business productivity? While globally the Android OS is far ahead of iOS and Microsoft (with 78% of the nearly 1 billion global smartphones in 2013), in the US Apple is a major player, and Microsoft is making an attempt to come on strong. That probably accounts for the many split households in the US that live with a combination of Microsoft, Apple, and Android devices—and mine is one of them.

In our house, my husband and I each have a personal desktop computer running Microsoft Windows, we each have a business laptop also running Windows, and that’s where we part company. I have a very old Apple desktop with which I can’t seem to part. His company provides an iPhone for business, and he has a personal iPad (which I am occasionally permitted to borrow). I also have a personal Android smartphone. As a result, we are constantly comparing performance among them all—especially when it comes to the voice assistance provided by Siri on his iOS devices and Google Now on my phone.

This recent anecdote, as reported to me and reproduced below, was the inspiration for this post.

iPhone User: {asks Siri a question}
Siri: I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.
iPhone User: {rephrases the question}
Siri: I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.
iPhone User: {rephrases the question again}
Siri: I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.
iPhone User: You don’t understand s**t!
Siri: {after a few seconds} You don’t have to be like that!


My Google Now would never behave like that! It would simply diligently attempt to understand my question and provide the information I needed until I was satisfied or gave up. That got me to thinking about which virtual assistant was actually more useful. Turns out, I’m not the only one. The recent beta release of Microsoft’s Cortana virtual assistant has spurred many comparisons of the three.

The consensus seems to be that Google Now wins for speed and knowledge, while Siri wins for personality, and Cortana is shaping up to be the tops for actually acting as an assistant (following instructions to set reminders related to contacts, learning about you in order to better fulfill your requests, etc.). Cortana can also sing, which the others cannot. And though Siri won a recent contest for understanding requests in foreign languages, Google Now is the best at actually speaking them. (Watch this video for an example.)

This recent post from Business Insider provides an in depth analysis of the strong and weak points of Siri, Google Now, and Cortana. It concludes that Google is the winner for speech recognition (with Cortana close behind); it finds Google the most “helpful,” and interestingly more “chatty” in a helpful way (often voicing an answer when the others will force you to read the screen to find the answer); its testing found Google to be the fastest, with Siri next, and Cortana last (possibly because it is still in beta); but it finds Google to be the least likeable and unable to tell you a joke or remember your birthday (which the others can do).

Watch this video for the latest examples of all three in action:

There is plenty of room for debate around which of the virtual assistants makes the best actual “assistant” for smartphone tasks like setting alarms, making calls, and adding calendar appointments. And in the end it will probably come down to subjective personal preference, and whether you prefer a device to talk to you, or to talk back to you. But, when it comes to understanding your queries and providing the information you want, one study found Google Now to be the clear winner.

The Great Knowledge Box Showdown: Google Now vs. Siri vs. Cortana, conducted completely independently by a digital marketing firm, presented 3086 different queries and compared them across all three platforms, then evaluated each platform based on its ability to provide a clear, direct answer to the question. A direct answer was one defined as being shown in a “knowledge box” and not requiring additional actions or searching through lists of results.

This infographic provides a high-level overview of the study results. Google Now was the overall winner providing a correct direct answer in 58% of the queries, Siri came in second at 29%, and Cortana was a close third at 20%. (Note that Cortana was still in relatively early beta when this study was conducted.) It is worth reading the full study analysis for a very interesting look at how the three assistants performed on different questions, and where each was strongest and weakest. Also, take the time to read the comments which provide additional insights. One notable comments theme was question phrasing. It seems that Siri, Google, and Cortana each have a preferred syntax that when utilized will have a better chance of returning the result you want.

The following video from the study shows how the research was performed, and also includes an example of each virtual assistant answering that all important question, “What does the fox say?”

What are your experiences with virtual assistants? Do you have a favorite, or a particularly funny exchange to share? Let us know in the comments.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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