Google Assistant has arrived on the iPhone.
Sure, technically, the AI-powered assistant was already available in a limited fashion through the Google Allo messaging app, but now, thanks to a new standalone app available on Apple's App Store (US-only for now), you can take full advantage of Google Assistant and start barking commands at it like you can with Siri. But can it replace Apple's default voice assistant? We played with it a bit to find out.
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What is Google Assistant?
Google Assistant is Google's version of an assistant - just like Apple has Siri and Microsoft has Cortana and Amazon has Alexa and Samsung has Bixby and so on. Pocket-lint has an in-depth guide on Google Assistant that details everything you need to know, including which devices and apps it is currently found in, how it works, what it can do, and the types of functionality it offers per device.
How does Google Assistant on iPhone work?
First, download the free Google Assistant app from Apple's App Store and log in to your Google account. It is only available in the US at launch. It will ask for access to your location and microphone. Then, you'll be brought to the chat screen in the app and told about the types of things you can ask. If you need help or what to know more about what Google Assistant can do, just ask: "What can you do?"
Ask a question
To ask a question, tap the microphone icon at the bottom of the chat screen and ask your question, or tap the keyboard icon to the left of the microphone icon to bring up a keyboard and manually input your question to Google Assistant.
In the top right of the chat screen, there's a blue icon. Tap it to access the more options in the Assistant app. The screen that pops up will have two tabs: Explore and Your Stuff. Explore suggests different things you can ask Google Assistant and recommends various tie-ins (also known as "skills" on the Cortana and Alexa platforms). For instance, you ask Assistant to play a song in Spotify.
The second tab we mentioned (under more options), Your Stuff, is where you can go to see all your Assistant-related stuff in one place, such as your reminders, agenda, and shopping list. You can also tap next to each section to begin adding reminders, events, shopping items, etc.
Under more options, and then next to the Your Stuff tab, you will see three horizontal dots.
This icon opens up a card that provides access to your account, settings, activity, and additional features like help and send feedback. Select Account to manage which Google account is linked to the Assistant app. Settings will let you add payment options and manage devices and services (like your Google Home or Spotify account), while Activity shows a history of everything you've done with Assistant.
What can Assistant do that Siri can't?
For the purposes of this guide, we're focusing on how Google Assistant on the iPhone compares to Siri on the iPhone.
Launching your assistant
The first obvious difference is that Siri is baked into iOS, while Google Assistant is a standalone app you need to download. You can easily access Siri by holding down the iPhone's home button, but with Google Assistant (and Cortana, Alexa, and all other third-party assistants), you need to launch a separate app. And on Android phones, Google Assistant is immediately there and ready.
The other thing worth mentioning is that you can't remap your Home button so that it launches an assistant other than Siri. Also, when you first launch the Google Assistant app on your iPhone, you have to log in to a Google account. Siri doesn't have this step when you first use it on the iPhone, though, technically, it quietly works with the Apple ID you used to sign into your device.
Calls and texts
If you're wondering whether you can make a call or send a message on the iPhone with Google Assistant, you can, but it's not exactly seamless. When you say, "Call Dad," for instance, Assistant will bring up his name and launch a phone call you can then cancel or confirm. If you say, "Text Dad," it asks for your message and launches your Messages app. Siri can send messages without opening an app.
You can play music using Google Assistant, but again, the experience is muddled. When you first ask Google Assistant to play music, it'll ask you to choose between Apple Music and YouTube as a default. We chose YouTube and said, "Play AC/DC." It then launched the YouTube app and played a random song from the band. We went back to Assistant and said "Play Father John Misty," and it served up a list of albums.
At that point we asked Assistant to play a song "on Apple Music" and it did so. From what we can tell it switched Apple Music to our default. We then couldn't figure out how to change YouTube to the default again. So, this feature still needs tweaking, in our opinion. Now, with Siri, you can ask it to play music, and it'll always play it on Apple Music and give you the option to open Apple Music.
Google Assistant works well with Google's own apps. You can send an email through Gmail (say who you want to send the email to, and it'll open the Gmail app; ask for directions with Google Maps instead of Apple's maps, etc). Now, with Siri, your email will always go through Apple's Mail app and can be done without opening the app, but you can also ask Siri to open some third-party apps, including Google Maps.
Unlike Siri, Google Assistant lets you set up quick shortcuts (under the Your Stuff tab) to customise Assistant. So, for instance, you can say "Be right there" to trigger a text to your husband that says you're 10 minutes away. "Make me laugh" could bring up fail videos on YouTube.
There are some iOS restrictions that limit what Google Assistant can do. The Your Stuff tab in the Google Assistant app lists that you set reminders, an agenda, and a shopping list. However, Google Assistant still can't set alarms, launch the camera to take selfies (or launch any app on command), post to social networks like Twitter or Facebook, call a ride-hailing app like Ubers or Lyft, etc.
You also can't launch third-party apps like Whatsapp to send a message. But Siri can do all that. That said, Google Assistant can handle setting reminders with a place and time, while Siri can only place what you requested on Apple's Reminders list.
Speaking of third-party apps, Apple has opened up Siri to developers, but you'll have to ask Siri what she can do and play around to figure things out yourself. With Google Assistant app, however, there is an Explore tab full of suggestions on what you can do with Assistant. We particularly like that Assistant offers access to other chatbots, like Genius, which guesses the name of a song based on a snippet.
Google Assistant is better at remembering context. For instance, when we asked, "Who's the Queen of England," and followed it up with "How old is she?" Google Assistant responded with "Elizabeth II" and "5-feet and 4 inches tall." Siri, meanwhile, answered the first question but responded with "I don't know" for the second. We also think Siri can't understand voice commands as well as Google.