SAN FRANCISCO - Siri may be feeling a little job insecurity. The sometimes droll assistant that answers questions and helps people manage their lives on Apple's iPhone and iPad is facing competition from an up-and-coming rival made by Google.
The duel began Monday with the release of a free iPhone and iPad app that features Google Now, a technology that performs many of the same functions that Siri does.
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 software that powers the iPhone, the iPad and the iPod Touch. It's up to each user to decide whether to activate Google Now within the redesigned Google Search app, which is available through Apple's app store.
Siri tried to dismiss the competitive threat. When asked for an opinion about Google Now, Siri responded: "If it's all the same to you, I'd rather Google later."
Many iPhone users - even those who have grown fond of Siri - welcomed Google Now's arrival to iOS in mostly enthusiastic and sometimes amusing remarks posted on Twitter and Google Plus. One person joked that Google Now is so helpful that the technology prompted him to wash his hands after using the bathroom. The biggest gripe was about the possibility of Google Now's location-tracking features draining a device's battery more quickly.
Google Now's invasion of Siri's turf marks Google'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 mapping application proved to be inferior to Google's ousted service. The app's bugs and glitches made Apple the butt of jokes.
Apple has been losing to Google on other fronts in a rapidly growing mobile computing market. Smartphones and tablet computers running Google's free Android software have been steadily expanding their market share in recent years, partly because they tend to be less expensive than the iPhone and the iPad. At the end of 2012, Android devices held about 69 percent of the smartphone market, while iOS held about 19 percent, according to research firm IDC.
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.