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by Laura Phillips on 8th April 2013
Ever at the forefront of innovative technology, it originally seemed that Google had decided to take on Apple’s Siri with Google Now, thought briefly to be their own mobile voice assistant. However the plot thickens, and it seems there is much more to Google Now than that as we’ll investigate today.
The official introduction for Google Now has the tag line ‘Google Now gets you just the right information at just the right time.’ Initial impressions showed it was going to be more than a voice activated information service; and more than a personal organiser.
Google Now is part of the Google Search app, described in Wikipedia as an ‘intelligent personal assistant’. Google Now marries up influence in many areas of life in a helpful and intelligent way.
It can answer questions like Siri and search the web, but more importantly it cannot only assist, but pre-empt your requirements using your calendar, email, historic behaviours, and location.
For example, if you are searching for restaurants and there is one in a close enough proximity, Google Now will give you information and directions. Based on your location it will have a weather report ready, what the traffic is like on your usual morning route, and scores after your club’s latest match.
Using a series of ‘cards’ Google Now organises your information in a logical fashion, and automatically displays them when you are most likely to need them based on your recent search activity, location, and appointments. As Google Now gets to know more about you these cards are customised and will appear on the search bar of the Google Now screen.
Currently the following cards are available:
Activity Summary – Shows you your walking or cycling activity over the last month, with comparison to the previous month.
Birthdays – Reminds you of friend’s birthdays and gives factoids about your own.
Events – Shows gigs near you from your favourite performers and local popular events such as sports matches before they happen.
Flights – Shows flights you have previously searched for.
Gmail : Boarding Pass – Also shows flights you have previously searched for.
Gmail : Event Bookings – If you have confirmed an event via Gmail, Google Now will show information related to it. It will store the ticket (often a QR code), display a reminder, and let you know when it’s time to leave for the event.
Gmail : Flights – Flight details will be displayed in advance for flights confirmed by Gmail.
Gmail : Hotels – Ties in information when your booking confirmation is received via Gmail, and sets a reminder to remind you of your checkout time.
Gmail : Packages – Notifies you when your online purchase shipping information is updated.
Gmail : Restaurants – Shown prior to your reservation booking time if confirmation comes through Gmail.
Movies – Shows films on at your local cinema and when a film you have shown an interest in is on near you.
News Updates – Shows updates of news stories you have read recently.
Next Appointment – Shows reminders of up-coming meetings set in your calendar.
Photo Spot Nearby – Indicates you are near a popular photo hot spot and gives you directions and time to get there.
Places – Shows amenities and possible places of interest in your locality such as shops, businesses and attractions.
Public Alerts – Shows weather warnings and similar alerts for your area.
Public Transport – Displays timetables and ‘next due’ when you are near a bus or train station or stop.
Real Estate – shows properties for sale near you after you have searched for properties for sale.
Research Topics – Brings up ideas related to recent research based Google searches you have conducted.
Sports – Displays information about teams you have shown an interest in before, during and after games/matches.
Stocks – Shown for stocks you are tracking.
Traffic – Shows current traffic on your usual route before it’s time to leave.
Travel : Currency – Shows currency conversions when you are away from home.
Travel : Nearby Attractions – Displays popular attractions close to you such as restaurants and parks.
Travel : Time Back Home – Lets you know the time at home when you are in different time zones.
Travel : Translate – Displays when you are in a country speaking a different language to your own.
Weather – Displays both current and predicted weather for your location and/or intended destination.
Google Now vs. Siri Voice Assistant
Originally billed by the media as a Siri-beater, the technology press was immediately filled with articles about how Google Now was their answer to Siri, but quite quickly this changed as more information was released and the true scope of Google Now was realised.
Back when Siri was new, it appeared to be a semi-viable threat on some Google traffic, as it is able to operate some kinds of searches that users may previously have turned to Google for. Typical examples include searching for recipes, the weather forecast, and asking ridiculous questions like these.
Siri has it’s flaws, speed being one of them, and the rather important voice recognition system not always being able to deal with humankind’s vast range of dialects, as this fun and frustrating video of a Scotsman trying to “create a reminder” shows all too well…
Amit Singhal said at SXSW recently that Google faces four major technical challenges to ‘solving’ its mission, and three of these are speech and language related. They are ‘the knowledge graph’, ‘speech recognition’, ‘natural language understanding’ and ‘(understanding) conversation’. While there is still some way to go, most of the clips I have seen on YouTube (by no means a scientific piece of research) indicates that Google Now not only responds more accurately, but also faster than Siri in the majority of cases (though they both struggle with a Scottish accent!)
Google Now vs. Passbook
Since September 2012 the iOS operating system has included the Passbook application as standard. Via Passbook users can keep track of tickets, vouchers, passes, and the like, which you can add via apps, email and sites from any company signed up to the program. These too are triggered by your proximity to a relevant location or time linked to the pass, but that is where Passbook starts and finishes.
A common example of the wonders of Google Now is its use in travel where it goes head to head with Passbook; and one area where popular opinion says it wins hands down.
If you are near the airport, it will find your boarding pass in Gmail and bring up a check-in QR code without being asked (this currently only works for United Airlines) and gives you the weather report for your destination. If you are somewhere new it will find local events and attractions, and restaurants. It can also give you the time back home, currency conversion, translation and more all within the Google Now cards. You don’t need to search or ask for it, Google Now decides what you are most likely to need based on information available to it.
This is the question on everyone’s lips this week. Currently Google Now is available on tablets and smartphones with Android 4.1 or higher via Jelly Bean. However the tech world is a-flurry with talk of Google Now coming to the Chrome browser for Windows and Chrome OS pretty soon. There has been no clues as to a Mac version as yet.
Though not yet public, a reference to Google Now was spotted in Chromium and reported around 12th March 2013. Since then speculation has been rife and possible time frames estimated. A video was posted on YouTube then quickly removed (possibly a fake) recently adding more fuel to the fire, which Engadget managed to store before it was removed…
Some say yes, some say no. Sean Parker once said “…There’s good creepy and there’s bad creepy, today’s creepy is tomorrow’s necessity.” He may have a point. How can Google Now best assist you in your day to day life if it does not have enough information about you? Where is the Privacy line, and has Google crossed it?
What do you think?