Short and long-term innovation

It’s the mobile innovation season again. Apple launched the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the latest operating system iOS 8, announced the much-anticipated Apple Watch and last week launched new iPads. Google unveiled plans for the new Nexus 6 phablet and the Nexus 9 tablet and a new Android operating system, Lollipop.

But what does this innovation actually amount to? Our phones are now bigger and even thinner – so much so that they bend if we accidentally sit on them.

Apple-Watch-logo-main1Apple is very focussed on getting all their technology to work “seamlessly” together. After Yosemite we should be able to start a Keynote presentation on our iPhone, pick up on our iPad, finish off on our Mac and then show it on our Apple TV, controlled by our Apple Watch. It’s clear that Apple’s future growth is going to come from getting us to buy more things and updating those we already have on a regular cycle.

Google, to some extent, is on the same merry-go-round. It too has watch software, a desktop (Chrome), phones, tablets and a TV streaming device, the Chromecast.

But Google also has Glass – a product still not ready for prime-time which has come in for increasing criticism after the initial burst of enthusiasm wore off. This Guardian review sums up the ambivalence well. What Glass does point to is a different interpretation of the way things will develop in the future.

The thing that makes Glass work is the voice interface and that is an area Google has been investing a lot of time and effort in – and with striking results.

Research by Stone Temple Consulting set out to compare results from Google Now, Siri and Cortana from Microsoft. And Google came our firmly on top – the chart here summarises those results.


Stone Temple summarise their findings like this:

So there you have it. As of October 4, Google Now has a clear lead in terms of the sheer volume of queries addressed, and more complete accuracy with its queries than either Siri or Cortana. All three parties will keep investing in this type of technology, but the cold hard facts are that Google is progressing the fastest on all fronts.

Google has been taking the whole artificial intelligence space more seriously than any other technology company. They have bought some serious talent like Demis Hassabis, the founder and chief executive of Deep Mind, the artificial intelligence business bought by Google for £400m at the start of the year.

On a visit to Microsoft way back in the 1990s I heard the head of Microsoft Research say that consumers already knew what they wanted – it was the Star Trek computer. This means a universal interface which is largely neutral about the actual device it is using at a particular moment in time.

Apple’s business model I think largely rules it out as a contender. It is too invested in creating physical devices and it is telling that it already let the Siri team depart when their work is clearly not done. (They have founded their own business called Viv aimed at delivering their version of the Star Trek computer.)

But with its heavy focus on understanding and organising knowledge, and its commitment to the development of powerful AI, my money is on Google to finally deliver the vision. And whether we access that through Glass, or through an Android-powered watch, or for that matter on the iOS platform, I’m not sure they particularly care.

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