Will Google Leave Siri on the Sidelines?

By | Mar 8, 2012

Google is working on Google Assistant, at first appearance a counterpart and rival to Apple's Siri virtual assistant. But Google's real goal is to revitalize search and change how we obtain information. Their goal, of course, is to build a new generation of Google's core search business.

For firms with active consumer-facing channels, Google's virtual assistant could re-shake a landscape that was just getting shaken up by social media. And even B2B firms probably have consumer-facing customers, not to mention that we all sometimes look for information online.

A World Beyond Television

According to Alexia Tsotsis at TechCrunch, the buzz that Apple TV is about to debut was not just about TV, but about the integration of Apple's virtual personal assistant, Siri in TVs and other iOS devices. But as Tsotsis notes, Apple's technology could soon have a major challenger: Google Assistant.

Formerly known as Majel (it is not clear whether this name has been dropped), Google Assistant will resemble its Apple counterpart in being based on voice interaction. Google has long been developing voice technology. For example, it hired Mike Cohen, founder of Nuance.

Google has more in mind, however, than just providing a voice assistant for Android phones. According to Tsotsis' (unnamed) source, the Assistant project has three components. One is organizing knowledge in a computer-friendly format. The second is using social information to personalize the results. The third is a "Do engine"--the Assistant functionality. This will reportedly seek to go beyond search results to helping meet practical daily goals.

A New Era of Search

It is only natural for Google to speak of going beyond search, but search (or more precisely the advertising it supports) accounts for nearly all of Google's revenue.

Google's dominance has been threatened of late, not by rival search engines like Bing, but by the rise of social search. Google does not want us relying on our Facebook friends to provide us with information or options, so Google will offer a virtual friend to help us with those things.

Google's work on Assistant sheds some perspective on Google+. The argument on how much time people spend on Google+ may be beside the point. Google may care less about competing with Facebook in the social space as about gaining just enough social information to enrich its alternative to social search.

If Google is successful, it will push back against the now popular assumption that the future belongs to social search. The fact is that when we want information, we may not want to rely on a friend of a friend. We just want the information, quickly and reliably.

Social media are hardly going to disappear. We like having friends! But in developing consumer-facing strategies and technologies--or working with partners who must develop them--social may be only one subgroup of multiple available channels.

From an IT perspective the implication is that the future will look more like the recent past than media hype often suggests. IT departments that are tasked to provide outreach to customers or partners will need to offer a variety of channels. They should also push back (diplomatically, now) against the assumption that everything in the future will be social.

At the same time, a new generation of Assistant-style technologies will offer new possibilities for distributing information, both inside and beyond the enterprise. If these technologies can solve problems as well as provide information, they may become integral to the workplace. We won't really know the implications until the technology is released. But it is worth keeping an eye out for.

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.