Hey Siri, Google Assistant is winning the AI game and it’s not even close

You might have missed the Apple references during last week’s Google Pixel 2 event, but they were there. There was VP of Product Management Mario Queiroz telling the crowd, “We don’t set aside better features for the larger devices.” Or pointing out that “even iMessages” would be transferred over when you decide to switch. And let’s not forget the woman taking a big bite out of an apple during the Pixel 2’s intro video.

In fact, it seemed like every new Google product released last week had a singular message seemingly aimed squarely at Apple. Google might have a long way to go before it starts selling iPhone-like numbers of Pixel phones, but there is one important area where it’s firmly in the lead, and it has nothing to do with bezels or beats. It’s about intelligence.

At its recent iPhone X event, Tim Cook pulled out Steve Jobs’s old Wayne Gretzky quote about skating to where the puck is going, but there’s only one company that’s thinking forward right now and it’s not Apple—it’s Google. New hardware might have been the reason for the event, but machine learning was the strongest undercurrent, and the message Google sent was clear: Our AI is better than your AI.

Brains before beauty

Google CEO Sundar Pichai kicked off the the Made by Google event by talking about his favorite topic: machine learning. It’s not enough that Google makes uncannily accurate search algorithms anymore. Google is using its AI smarts to make its products more responsive and adaptable to each user’s lifestyle.

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google home miniGoogle

Google Home Mini will put Google Assistant in every room of your house.

It’s not about specs (although the Pixel phones have really good ones) or design (although the Google Home Max will look good in any room). In fact, none of Google’s new products are all that interesting on the surface, but what’s inside is leaps and bounds ahead of what Apple is doing with Siri and iPhone X. It’s about smarts, and Google has integrated Google Assistant and machine learning into every one of its devices in a, dare I say it, Apple-like way.

There’s the impulse-buy Google Home Mini and the high-fidelity Max to put Assistant in every room of your house. Active Edge on the Pixel lets you squeeze the sides of your phone to launch Assistant. And the Assistant-powered Pixel Buds feature a remarkable live translation feature. Google’s latest products are designed from the inside out to be smarter than they are pretty, a big bet that consumers are tired of good-looking gadgets that put form before function. And if it’s right, Apple could be playing catch-up for years to come.

Conversations, not commands

Apple’s first home AI speaker won’t hit shelves until December, but Google already has three of them. When it was announced in June, HomePod appeared to have an advantage over Google Home and Amazon Echo with its high-fidelity, room-sensing smarts, but now Google Home Max has landed, and it might be even better.

apple homepod scan roomApple

HomePod intelligently scans your room to deliver the perfect sound.

Like HomePod, Google Home Max uses machine learning to analyze your space to deliver optimal sound, but Google’s method gets more granular and fine-tunes the sound based on the song you’re listening to as well as adjusting based on Max’s surroundings. But if id they’re even when it comes to sound, the real difference-maker is Google Assistant.