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Tests find Apple's Siri improving, but Google Now voice search slightly better

The comprehension abilities of Apple's voice-driven personal assistant Siri continue to get better, but new testing shows that using Google Now for searching on Android has surpassed it in terms of accuracy when answering queries.

Analyst Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray did a side-by-side comparison of Apple's Siri and Google Now this month, and the results of those tests were shared with AppleInsider in a new research note on Tuesday. He found that the Android voice search function correctly answered questions 84 percent of the time, barely edging out Siri, which was 82 percent correct.

Both platforms have seen major improvements in comprehension levels. In particular, Siri was found this month to correctly interpret questions 96 percent of the time, up from an 88 percent accuracy rate in tests conducted in December of 2012.

But there's still a disparity between correctly hearing the question and correctly answering it. When Siri heard the question correctly, it still provided the wrong answer 16 percent of the time.

Last December, Munster ranked Apple's Siri with a grade of "C+", which at the time was even with his assessment of Google Now. But in his latest July rankings, while Siri improved to a "B-", Google's search was given a slightly better grade of "B".

Munster's tests also found that Siri has continued to reduce its reliance on Google, and answered just 3 percent of questions using data from the search giant. That's down considerably from the 27 percent for which it relied on Google in December of 2012.

Apple has moved away from Google Maps, and also uses Microsoft's Bing as its default search provider for traditional Web content. Apple Maps has taken over not only for Google, but also for most Yelp content.

"We believe Siri will continue increasing the number of queries it can answer without consulting outside sources," the analyst wrote. "This is important because if Siri consistently directs users to other search engines, they will be more likely to simply use Google/another search engine instead of going through Siri."

Most notably for Munster, Siri has gained the ability to answer questions using two sources at once. In one example, he asked "Where is Mt. St. Helen?", and the personal assistant provided information from both Apple Maps and Wikipedia.

In the past, Google Now has had an advantage over Siri because it uses Google Search, Google Maps, and Google Play together to provide an integrated and comprehensive answer to queries," Munster said. Siri is catching up on this front."

In terms of improvements that Apple could make, Munster noted that Siri does not sort search results by price or hours of availability. Google Now, however, gives users the ability to filter results based on price, location, rating and hours.

Siri does give the ability to sort results based on Yelp ratings, or distance.

Munster's testing was done in both a controlled environment, simulating minimal background noise that a user might experience when using their smartphone indoors, as well as an uncontrolled environment. In the uncontrolled test, background noise was kept at about 80 decibels.