While manufacturers furiously introduce sharper screens and faster processors in 2014, a quieter mobile war will be waged that’s even more important than what color the next iPhone will be. According to The Telegraph, both Apple and Google are spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” on Google Now and Siri, hoping both voice assistants will become the must-have technology of the future. It’s a race that could prove to be even more important than how flat or minimal mobile software becomes.
The Telegraph’s report doesn’t reveal much that we hadn’t assumed already. Since the iPhone 4s hit, Siri has remained a big part of iOS, and has been improved upon up until Apple’s latest iOS 7 update. Google, meanwhile, released its predictive intelligence service called Google Now, which has become a key component of the company’s mobile software. So much so that its voice prowess is featured in commercials, and has become more deeply integrated in the latest version of Android 4.4 KitKat. It’s not surprising to see each company throwing big money behind these services.
“The reason we feel pretty good in terms of competition is because what we’re seeing and everything we’re building today is built on top of the foundation of core web search rankings,” said Scott Huffman, a lead Google engineering director. Huffman goes on to share an example of Google Now’s intelligence and its ability to decipher between when a user asks for pictures and when a user is simply quoting a famous movie line.
One of the biggest obstacles Google Now is facing at the moment is cataloging and verifying information so the service doesn’t merely just provide Web results to a question, according to Huffman. Instead, Google wants to ensure its voice technology can answer questions directly, and avoid providing a long list of search results that a user needs to comb through. It would be like asking a friend a question and instantly getting the exact answer you were looking for.
Apple, meanwhile, has been acquiring companies—the iPhone maker purchased start-up Topsy—to improve the quality of Siri, which has become a target for Apple criticizers. “It does feel like a bit of a race,” Huffman said. With unfathomable sums being thrown at voice-controlled assistants, the pressure to perform is definitely on. But Google is confident its search engine will leave competitors in the dust, and that relying on start-ups with a “magic idea” isn’t something it’s focused on—a clear shot at Apple.
“It’s more about the engineering talent in this being in a lot of demand,” Huffman said.