Apple seems to really be taking its time bringing Siri to the Mac even though it debuted with the iPhone 4s all the way back in 2011. It makes sense to focus on Siri for portable devices, but some of its uses are just too valuable to not have on your Mac. Plus, MacBooks are become more and more portable as well.
While you’re waiting for Siri, a new bot has entered the Mac App Store. While it can’t do everything Siri can do, Awa covers most of the basic essentials, including understanding natural language. Siri will probably come eventually, but for only $0.99, let’s see if Awa can hold her own.
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First, let’s go through all of the commands the developer claims Awa is capable of acting on. You can apparently use Awa to open applications on your Mac, go to specific websites or search the web, perform calculations, take notes, set reminders in the Reminders app and find places in Maps. (This could be specific down to the address or broad like “restaurants in Tokyo.”) You can also just have conversations with Awa for fun.
Right away it’s easy to tell that Awa isn’t nearly as smart as Siri. Don’t expect Awa to set any geofences for you or check sports scores. But still, this is a pretty decent list of potential tasks to have Awa complete. The little bit here and there can add up.
Now we just have to see if Awa can handle what she’s supposed to.
Tip: When you first open Awa, record a keyboard shortcut for quick, on-demand access to her in the future.
Putting Awa to the Test
Right off the bat I have to admire the user interface. It doesn’t look far off from the way Apple might design Siri for Mac. It sits in the menu bar and the translucent window design fits nicely in with OS X El Capitan and Yosemite. I also appreciate that upon clicking the menu bar icon, Awa starts listening to your command right away rather than requiring another click.
Now it’s time to ask some questions and set some commands. I started off, perhaps unfairly, with the question I ask Siri the most. “What’s the weather?”
Oops, weather data is coming in a future version. That’s okay I guess since Awa never claimed to be able to retrieve the weather, but she can’t even just search the web for it? That was a tad disappointing.
“Open Google,” I said. Well, Awa did that just fine. In fact, Awa opens any application or web page you throw at it pretty easily. Just as long as it’s not some long, convoluted name.
Searching works just fine too, though it’s easy to see that Awa isn’t as good as recognizing natural language as Siri is. I said “Search the web for puppies” and Awa searched “the web for puppies.” Awa can also search Wikipedia if you begin your search by saying “Wikipedia” though she does seem to have a problem with phrases that have more than one word.
Reminders just flat out didn’t work. Awa kept saying she needed permission, but I was never asked to grant it and still don’t have any idea how I’m supposed to. That seems like a bug that should be addressed because after weather, reminders are another task I use Siri for very often.
Notes work but not as I expected. Awa was able to recognize me say “Make a note of” or “Take note” and then write out the text, except she put it in a .txt document. I guess that works if I just wanted to save a note locally, but I’d much rather the note went straight into iCloud Notes.
And finally, Maps worked but only about half of the time. It was the more specific locations that Awa had no problem with, like if I gave an address. But as soon as I asked for restaurants in general, all hope was lost. According to the app description, Awa should be able to find restaurants though, so perhaps that’s another bug.
Awa feels pretty half-baked right now. It has potential to be a helpful personal assistant for your Mac, but ends up falling flat in a lot of key areas. I can’t automatically sync the notes it takes, I can’t find food if I’m hungry, I can’t set reminders and I can’t even see when it’s going to rain.
The good news is, in terms of programming these should be relatively easy problems to fix in a future software update. Plus Awa can search the web and open applications, take some notes and find some locations. That’s got to be good for something, right? I suppose that all depends on the value of your dollar.
$0.99 is cheap enough for something like Awa if you really need it, but otherwise, you still might want Siri to come by and sweep you off your feet.