It’s not every day that Siri, the too often forgotten pocket, wrist, and now desktop-sized assistant surprises me. Yet on a cold January morning, Apple is there to deliver a “win”.
January weather in New York can be quite unpredictable. A random mid-week heatwave could bring you a spring-like 60 degree day. The very next? A high of 22. Bring in some gusty 20-30 mph winds and the cold feels like it’s cutting right through you. It’s times like these when knowing the current wind chill can be extremely helpful (knowing what to wear is a whole different story).
I’m obsessed with virtual assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, etc. and you’ll find that I spend a lot of time writing about their capabilities (and weaknesses!). People often ask me which assistant is the best for them. This, of course, depends on each individual use case. For example, anyone looking for top-notch home automation and spectacular third-party developer support should race over to Amazon and pick up an Echo right now. On the other hand, if you love getting quick answers to every day questions, it’s no secret that Google Assistant is plugged into the most powerful index of knowledge on the planet. On the go? Siri’s got your back with its note-taking, alarm-setting, text-sending prowess. Last but not least, if you spend a lot of time at your Windows 10 PC or Surface, Cortana is gaining popularity as an irreplaceable office side-kick.
Let’s get back to my point about the wind chill. Every morning I wake up and slug to the kitchen where I begin my one-bloodshot-eye regiment of coffee brewing and staring at the floor. It takes a few steamy sips, but eventually I’m ready to speak to one of my friendly assistants and ask them to turn on the lights and provide some information about the day. Typically, the commands are simple:
“Alexa, turn on relaxing lighting”.
“Hey Siri, what’s on my calendar for today”?
“Hey Google, today’s temperature”?
“OK Google, what’s the wind chill”?
“(hmm)… Alexa, what’s the current wind chill”?
“(uhh)… Cortana, can you tell me the current wind chill”?
This was a fascinating discovery. I wasn’t surprised about Alexa. Amazon has done a great job with Alexa’s device control (and skill extensions), but I’ve run into this issue many times where a question slightly outside of the box can throw it off. Asking Alexa for the windchill led it to just repeat the weather forecast with no mention of the wind or “real feel” temp. Cortana predictably just blasted me off to a Bing-powered search result for “what is the current wind chill”, which Bing actually doesn’t automatically provide. I was very surprised when Google, typically the show-off wizard of trivia responses, replied simply with a definition for the term “wind chill”.
This brings us to Siri, my least-used pal when it comes to information outside of the limited commands Apple has relentlessly marketed. To be honest, I almost didn’t even test this question for fear I’d simply get an on screen 10-day forecast in response. Much to my surprise when i asked Siri (on Apple Watch!) for the wind chill I received a 100% accurate response.
It’s moments like these that make it increasingly difficult to answer the question “which virtual assistant is the best”? Until these AI systems can truly learn to improve their own responses, there will still be undefinable weaknesses in each that can only be discovered through trial and error. It will certainly be interesting to see how long it takes for Alexa, Google, and Cortana to learn what a wind chill is, and I’ll obviously continue to test this one for curiosity’s sake. In the meantime, be sure to check with Siri before you leave without your earmuffs.