Google Assistant Struggling on iPhone. So What?
Business Insider reported recently that Google Assistant iPhone downloads have been slow to gain momentum. This is the expected outcome for a number of reasons. However it is worthwhile looking at the numbers. Google announced iOS device access at its annual I/O developer conference.
Business Insider cites data from both App Annie and Sensor Tower. The former suggests 300,000 downloads and the latter only 190,000. While App Annie’s download number is far higher, it still isn’t a large figure. It represents only a 0.34% penetration rate among U.S. iPhone users. And, you can see from the chart below that following a download spike shortly after the announcement, new activations have trailed to nearly zero in recent weeks.
Why Should Google Assistant iPhone Downloads Be Low?
Google Assistant is not setting user adoption records on iOS. Then again, should we expect it to? Yes, consumers have adopted other Google apps on iOS such as search, maps and Gmail. However, each of those had users from desktop looking to replicate that experience on mobile. It didn’t hurt that each was also superior to Apple’s native apps for these productivity categories. Google Assistant doesn’t have this pedigree. Desktop users haven’t created habits around Google Assistant and therefore don’t have that pull to use it on their iPhone.
In addition, Google Assistant, doesn’t have the deep OS integration that Siri commands on the iPhone. That means it is not always listening and ready to respond to voice interaction. You cannot operate Google Assistant completely hands free to execute common tasks unless you have the app open on your device and in foreground. You must start the conversation by opening the app and then speaking or entering text input. When we think of virtual assistants, these are not the interaction modalities that immediately come to mind. Siri, Alexa and Google solutions on Android have conditioned us to expect voice-first input and not a touch, then voice experience.
Google Assistant is a Superior Information Service
Google Assistant on Android devices and Google Home meets our voice-first expectations. However, even on iOS it provides another valuable set of features. Google Assistant is an excellent information service. Think of it as a more efficient search engine. The app is far superior to Siri in this regard. Google Assistant provides fast answers, location awareness and easy follow up actions through voice, text and touch. Think of it as conversational search with some hot keys to get you to answers more quickly.
The latter point is an under-estimated feature of Google Assistant. After you ask for information, there is a dialogue box with information or some clickable images for you to access more information. There are also “chips” that are similar to smart reply buttons in Gmail and on other services. The system anticipates what you might like to do next and provides three buttons to streamline the navigation process.
Consumers don’t know yet that Google Assistant is really just a more powerful and user-friendly search engine that also includes voice apps for conversational interactions. Many people first think of either the utility features of voice assistants such as sending a text or the voice apps that enable you to play games or control smart home devices. Google cannot do much in the way of utility functions on iOS and it is still lagging in voice app development. However, it is excellent at pulling up relevant information. A study of 5,000 common questions by Stone Temple found Google Assistant beating Siri, Cortana and Alexa in both number of questions answered and accuracy rate.
The study also found that Siri was the most likely to respond with incorrect answers. That alone means iPhone users have a good incentive today to start using Google Assistant. Convenience may still rule when it comes to accessing the always listening Siri, but it is inconvenient to get the wrong answer and have to interact directly with the phone. Google might generate more traction for Assistant on iPhone if it simply emphasized the information service benefits to users.
Google Assistant is Not Alone on iOS
It is also worth noting that Alexa functionality is available on iOS devices. There is an Alexa app and you can access the voice assistant directly through the Amazon shopping app. However, neither is a great use experience as Alexa skills were designed first and foremost for the far-field smart speaker experience. Google knows mobile and has an elegant solution to both far-field through Google Home and near-field voice recognition for smartphone use cases. Google Assistant has a solid home in the Android ecosystem and will likely gain a foothold in iOS for information services and the new search use cases.