Apple is finally catching up in one key area where it's been losing to Google for years

WWDCAppleNew Siri in iOS 9

On Monday, Apple told us all about its next major software update for the iPhone called iOS 9. One of the more notable features to come with iOS 9 is a Siri improvement called “Proactive.”

It basically allows Siri to communicate with Apple’s other apps so that it can make smart suggestions for you.

So, for example, if you have an event like a potluck in your calendar, Siri might automatically bring up contact info for other people who are attending the event. When you perform a search in Spotlight Search, it will bring up recipes more quickly than usual since it knows you have a potluck coming up.

In other words, its becoming a”proactive” virtual assistant versus a passive one that simply answers your questions.

This is the one area where Google Now has slaughtered Siri in for years.

With Google Now, Google has prided itself on being able to offer contextual information at a glance, especially since it introduced Android Wear last year. And, with its most recent version of Android, Google has introduced an even more advanced version of Google Now called Google Now on Tap.

Instead of just communicating with your other apps, Google Now on Tap uses machine learning to analyse what’s on screen to offer up even more precise suggestions. So, if you’re listening to a particular song, Google Now on Tap will automatically show more information about that song such as reviews for the artists’ album and so on.

Siri, by comparison, has functioned more as a super-smart and fast search engine you can explore by asking questions. It didn’t really get to know you the way Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana do.

But now, it seems like Apple is making some real steps to change that, and it could be crucial for the company moving forward.

The analysts at Jeffries have an interesting theory, as they explained in a note from last week. Although Apple’s primary business is hardware, Apple still needs to bolster its cloud services if it wants to keep up with Google in terms of user experience. Siri’s new Proactive feature is one way to address the scenario Jeffries lays out below (emphasis is our own):

While we believe Google’s Play Store revenues are growing faster (off a lower base) than iOS app store, Google’s Now on Tap signals a more fundamental shift away from a litany of apps powered by disconnected data sources, to a more context-aware and unified Cloud Service that over time could make device-based apps less relevant. At ~1m apps each, we think the last thing either iOS or Android ecosystems need is new apps. With fewer apps to install/update, or to switch across, we think user experience could improve dramatically.

In other words, if consumers start to value the quality of cloud services just as much as they value hardware, Jeffries’ thinks Google could pose a threat to Apple’s business. Both Apple and Google’s app stores already have thousands upon thousands of apps — so a smart, contextual virtual assistant that can help you sort through all of these types of content could become even more valuable in the future.

Proactive will be available in iOS 9 when it launches, which will likely be in the fall. Google Now on Tap will probably debut around the same time in October, if Google follows the same launch schedule it put in place last year.

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