Google's virtual assistant invades Siri's turf

San Francisco Google is trying to upstage Siri, the sometimes droll assistant that answers questions and helps people manage their lives on Apple's iPhone and iPad.

The duel begins Monday with the release of a free i Phone and iPad app that features Google Now, a technology that performs many of the same functions as Siri.

It's the first time that Google Now has been available on smartphones and tablet computers that aren't running on the latest version of Google's Android software. The technology, which debuted nine months ago, is being included in an upgrade to Google's search application for iOS, the Apple Inc. software that powers the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It's up to each user to decide whether to activate Google Now within the redesigned search app.

Google Now's invasion of Siri's turf marks Google Inc.'s latest attempt to lure iPhone and iPad users away from a service that Apple built into its own devices.

Google quickly won over millions of iPhone users in December when it released a mapping application to replace the navigation system that Apple dumped when it redesigned iOS last fall. Apple's maps application proved to be inferior to Google's ousted service. The app's bugs and glitches made Apple the butt of jokes and fueled demand for Google to develop a new option.

Google believes its Siri counterpart is smarter because Google Now is designed to learn about a user's preferences and then provide helpful information before it's even asked to do so. The technology draws upon information that Google gleans from search requests other interactions with the company's other services. Knowing a person's location also helps Google Now serve up helpful information without being asked.

"This concept of predicting your needs and showing you them at the right time is unique to Google Now," said Baris Gultekin, Google Now's director of product management. "We want computers to do the hard work so our users can focus on what matters to them so they can get on with their lives."

If the technology is working right, Google Now is supposed to do things like automatically tell people what the local weather is like when they awaken to help decide what to wear and provide a report on traffic conditions for the commute to work. During the day, Google Now might provide an update on the score of a user's favorite sports team or a stock quote of a company in a user's investment portfolio. On a Friday evening, Google Now might offer suggestions for movies to see or other weekend events tailored to a user's interests. For international travelers, Google Now might provide currency conversion rates, language translations of common phrases and the time back home.

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