What is Google Now
Google Now is an app that Google has had available for a couple months now, while there have been a lot of reviews out quickly about the list of features that are available I’ve left it for a bit to be able to try it out and use it properly for myself. The tagline that Google have given this new service is “The right information at just the right time”, which is pretty accurately described by Wikipedia as “an intelligent personal assistant developed by Google that is available within the Google Search mobile application for the Android and iOS operating systems. Google Now uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of web services. Along with answering user-initiated queries, Google Now passively delivers information to the user that it predicts they will want, based on their search habits” (Source).
Google Now’s user interface is based on a card system, where a series of cards are shown to the user displaying different pieces of what Google considers to be relevant information for the user, each of these cards can be discarded, or selected to perform different actions, for example if the card is showing you directions, selecting it will bring up Google Maps showing the directions with additional details.
So here are some of the highlights of what I have seen Google Now do;
Unsurprisingly I regularly go to work and like a lot of people, there is frequently a rush in the morning to try and get out of the door at the right time to catch the bus without spending forever waiting. After having defined what my work location is Google Now will tell me how long it will take to get to work and suggest what route to take, which is particularly useful as there are two bus stops near to where I live that I can catch different buses and it is just a matter of which one is arriving next as to which is the quicker route. Google Now also does the same at the other end of the day, letting me know how long it will take me to get home, which is fine by me although it does start telling me at about lunch time, which can make the day drag when I see if I left now I could be home in 25 minutes or something. I haven’t included any screenshots for this as I don’t want to find people waiting for me outside of my work after finding me through my blog.
I recently did some travelling around Europe and during this time Google Now came up with some really useful cards. The first one I saw started showing up the day before I left where it had a card providing me directions from Amsterdam airport to the hostel I was staying at in Amsterdam. I really loved this, while I being the organised type had already figured out the route and printed it out was safe I was much happier having it on my phone (GPS for the win!). While I could have sworn I had taken a screenshot to include here I don’t appear to be able to find it, so you will have to use your imagination, but it was pretty much a card which showed a well zoomed out map, which when you selected it would take you to Google Maps with directions.
So Google knew where I was staying when I was supposed to check in and check out so I would get the cards informing me of this. As when I’m on holiday I try to forget about what day it is, it was useful to be told that I was supposed to be checking out the next day otherwise I would have quite happily stayed in some locations for the entire time of my holiday.
The card below shows what I was given for my Berlin hostel, a nice photo (I’m not certain where they’re sourcing the photo’s from), the capability to go to the Hostels information, view the email that indicates that I will be checking into this hostel on that day and the capability to call the hostel, all quite standard stuff you might want to find out.
Once I had checked into my hostel I would have a look at the other cards that Google Now was suggesting for me, things like local transport times, nearby attractions, common photo spots near to where you currently are, translation between your default language and the local language and the time at home, which wasn’t that useful for me as I was always UTC+1 so there wasn’t much in it, but I could see this as a useful feature for people who are frequently flying to different time zones.
One feature of your phone constantly reporting your location is that Google Now can come up with an approximate number of miles that you have walked. Now I personally don’t believe the figure that it reported to me as I know that I walked at least 20 miles on one day during May and the idea of me having only walked an extra 4 miles on the rest of the time is preposterous. My thoughts are that it might only be covering the time when I was in London during may due to not having a constant Internet connection when I was abroad.
So I’ve been quite lucky in that I was able to go on a long weekend shortly after coming back from Europe (“no man needs a holiday more than one who’s just got back from one” and all that), upon arriving back I was greeted with information about my flight. Now while when I noticed it I had already arrived back in the UK I would assume that I would have received appropriate information about my flight before hand as well, but again no Internet connection to check. I’m not sure how long before the flight this pops up but I’m not sure how useful it would be, as for most flights you’re supposed to arrive two hours in advance, so by the time you’re leaving to head to the airport they may not already know whether a flight is delayed, maybe some frequent fliers could enlighten us about how far in advance you might be able to find out if your flight is delayed.
I think it’s nice that they’re able to show what time the flight is expected to arrive at your destination, the actual arrival time is interesting but in my view a little pointless.
So this new one popped up recently which I wasn’t expecting, a movie suggestion based upon actors that I like, I’m not sure which actor that they’re referring to in this film – although it would be very interesting to know which actor and why it thinks I like them – but this film for me looks like a miss. The movie suggestion appears to also be missing the photo that goes along with it, but I guess that they will probably fix that rather soon.
So overall my experience of Google Now has been great, it’s turned out to be really useful for while I was travelling. It is interesting to think about how much Google is able to figure out about us and how they are able to supply it to us to try and make our lives easier. While all this obviously comes at the expense of some of our privacy to Google, I am still at a level where I am feeling comfortable about it, although I have never been the most militant person in the world about my privacy. I am looking forward to seeing what other things about me they are able to figure out and how they can use it to try and make things easier for me.