Siri, Google Now, and Cortana are more than gimmicks

Talking smartphone assistants like Siri, Google Now, and Cortana can make your life easier. They’re also getting smarter ever day. Let’s take a look at what they can do.

Man using Jabra Stealth with smartphone

In 2011, Siri charmed her way into our hearts with humorous quips and silly answers to no-less-silly questions. Since then, intelligent assistants have become a staple of modern smartphones. Every major player has one: Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, and Google has the decidedly unsexy-sounding Google Now.

I’m sure that a few of you are actually using these assistants to get things done. It makes sense: Why bother typing a message by hand when you can simply dictate it to your helpful smartphone elf? But most people still haven’t embraced virtual assistants beyond asking Siri if she loves them to get a quick laugh out of her answer.

Well, it may be time to give them a try. They’re getting more useful as we speak, and they’ll only get smarter in the future.

What can they do now?

All three virtual assistants already have an impressive range of skills. They can help you keep track of appointments, call people up when you ask them to, and read your emails out loud to you.

Once you get more comfortable with using their abilities, they can turn into invaluable helpers for your everyday tasks. They’ll find the quickest route to your destination and guide you there, help you find nearby stores, or tell you who sings that catchy tune you can’t seem to stop humming to yourself. By scouring the Internet, they can pretty much answer any question you can throw at them.

Take a look at some of the ways you can interact with these assistants and how they respond to different questions and commands. (Granted, they’re clearly not flawless. Yet.)

Google Now

Google Now seems to be the most robust of the bunch. It’s integrated into Google’s extensive search ecosystem. As a result, Google Now benefits from things like contextual search and deep learning. It gets better the more you talk to it.

Unlike Siri and Cortana, Google Now doesn’t have a sense of humor or any true personality to speak of. It’s all business, all the time.

If you have an Android phone, here’s the full list of Google Now commands you can try.

Siri

Siri is the original, smooth-talking companion from Apple that kick-started the virtual assistant race. She’s got moxy and cracks jokes on demand. But she’s not just a toy. She can do most of the things Google Now does, and she has a personality to go with it. She can also be a he: Siri’s the only assistant to offer both a female and male voice.

If you’re an Apple user, here’s the full list of what Siri can do for you.

Cortana

Cortana is the fresh newcomer to the virtual assistant game. She’s named after a synthetic intelligence character from Microsoft’s popular Halo series. Voiced by actress Jen Taylor, Cortana competes with Siri for personality and with Google Now for pure function.

If you’ve got a Microsoft phone, here’s the full list of Cortana commands.

What will they do in the future?

Her

If you’ve seen the movie Her, you already know how this could play out. (If you haven’t seen it, you should. It’s pretty great.)

As Siri, Cortana, and Google Now get smarter, they might shift from simply answering your questions to proactively updating you on things that matter before you even think of them yourself – from “You’re running late for your appointment” to “Here’s some cool music you might like on the road” to “Actually, you hate this brand of cereal, remember?”

Does that sound creepy and intrusive? Sort of. But all signs point to us gradually seeing more value in this kind of interaction and coming to rely on our handy assistants for managing our busy lives.

If you aren’t freaked out yet, some observers predict that things will go even further. They see a future where such AI assistants are permanently implanted in our heads and where we don’t even need to say anything at all – they’ll simply sync with our thoughts and emotions. (Hollywood, there’s an idea for your next dystopian blockbuster.)

Until that day comes, we’ll still rely on our voice to get the message across. This brings us to…

How do Bluetooth headsets fit into the picture?

Man wearing Jabra Stealth using smartphone and laptop

When I want to ask Cortana a quick question, I’m not too keen on pulling a smartphone out of my pocket, pressing some buttons, bringing the mic close to my mouth, and only then dictating my request. At that point, I may as well type a few quick keywords directly into the search bar. No, if I am to use a virtual assistant that understands what I say, I want that process to be as simple as possible.

That’s where Bluetooth headsets come in. They can help you get more mileage out of virtual assistants in a few key ways.

Convenience

A Bluetooth headset is always in your ear and connected to your smartphone. Since Google Now and Cortana can be set to listen for your voice input at all times, asking them a question becomes as easy as – well – literally just asking them a question.

Siri currently has some limitations and can’t always be scanning for your voice (unless you’re lucky enough to own the newest iPhone 6S or 6S Plus). To solve that, some Bluetooth headsets have a dedicated button that activates Siri or Google Now with a single tap.

Privacy

Let’s be honest: You don’t want to have your messages read out loud to you in public for the whole world to hear, do you? With a headset in your ear, you’ll be the only one listening. Sure, you’ll still get the occasional funny look for seemingly talking to empty space in front of you, but people are become more accepting of this. Just look at Joaquin Phoenix in Her. (I really can’t recommend this movie enough.)

Clarity

Cortana, Siri, and Google Now will all sometimes struggle to understand what you’re saying. (“No, Siri, I don’t want to know how tall the ‘I fell tower’ is.”) This is especially true if you’re in a crowded, noisy place. A Bluetooth headset with noise-cancelling microphones will isolate your voice, making it easier for a virtual assistant to understand your words.

Safety

In an earlier post, I wrote about safe driving laws and how Bluetooth headsets help you abide by them. If you drive a lot and want Siri to help you navigate, a Bluetooth headset or an in-car speakerphone will let you keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.

Don’t drive? Then a Bluetooth headset might still save you from this embarrassing fate:

I’m just saying.