Just ask Siri? A pilot study comparing smartphone digital assistants and laptop Google searches for smoking cessation advice

PLoS One. 2018 Mar 28;13(3):e0194811. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0194811. eCollection 2018.


Objective: To compare voice-activated internet searches by smartphone (two digital assistants) with laptop ones for information and advice related to smoking cessation.

Design: Responses to 80 questions on a range of topics related to smoking cessation (including the FAQ from a NHS website), compared for quality.

Setting: Smartphone and internet searches as performed in New Zealand.

Main outcome measures: Ranked responses to the questions.

Results: Google laptop internet searches came first (or first equal) for best quality smoking cessation advice for 83% (66/80) of the responses. Voiced questions to Google Assistant ("OK Google") came first/first equal 76% of the time vs Siri (Apple) at 28%. Google and Google Assistant were statistically significantly better than Siri searches (odds ratio 12.4 and 8.5 respectively, p<0.0001 in each comparison). When asked FAQs from the National Health Service website, or to find information the Centers for Disease Control has made videos on, the best search results used expert sources 59% (31/52) of the time, "some expertise" (eg, Wikipedia) 18% of the time, but also magazines and other low quality sources 19% of the time. Using all three methods failed to find relevant information 8% (6/80) of the time, with Siri having the most failed responses (53% of the time).

Conclusion: Google internet searches and Google Assistant were found to be significantly superior to the Siri digital assistant for smoking cessation information. While expert content was returned over half the time, there is still substantial room for improvement in how these software systems deliver smoking cessation advice.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Information Seeking Behavior*
  • Internet / classification*
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • New Zealand
  • Pilot Projects
  • Smartphone / statistics & numerical data*
  • Smoking Cessation / methods*
  • Therapy, Computer-Assisted / methods*

Grants and funding

The study was self-funded by the authors and no funder had any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the 'author contributions' section.