Google Now App

Feb 20, 2013

The Google Now app is one of the most interesting and unique apps exclusive to the Android platform. Google Now is available on Android version 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and later. Google Now shows “cards” with useful information based on your phone usage. The Google Now app is accessible by holding the home button and swiping up.

Google Now’s most powerful advantage is simply how automated it is. While much of its functionality is available through other apps and online, Google Now monitors what you do and automatically populates the app with information based on your actions. Some cards are shown to all users by default, like the weather card. Other cards depend on specific information Google Now collects about the user.

Google Now can take some of this information from email, like flight itineraries or package tracking numbers. Whenever it detects a confirmation email with travel information or a package tracking number, it creates a card that shows the status of a flight or package and updates every time something changes. Google Now also takes information from web searches. If it sees a users search for stock quotes, for instance, it will create a card whenever that stock price changes significantly.

The goal of Google Now is to use as many inputs as possible to create useful data. GPS signals are another data point Google Now uses to create cards. When Google Now detects the user is away from home, it creates a card showing the travel time to the user’s home, including traffic delays. Google Now also attempts to track total distance walked and biked in a month, although this feature tends to be inaccurate.

google-now-appOther cards from Google Now include:

  • Sports scores
  • Calendar appointments
  • Hotel and restaurant reservations
  • Friend’s birthdays
  • Movies
  • Nearby events
  • Nearby photo spots
  • Public transit information

The idea behind Google Now is absolutely fantastic. Many smartphone users constantly have their phones with them, and the phones are capable of monitoring many data points. Google Now is an intuitive attempt to make this data more useful to the user.

The unfortunate limitation of Google Now is that each card requires a significant amount of programming. Humans are capable of making lots of logical conclusions about groups of data. In fact, our brains are specifically designed to organize groups of data into patters. Computers, on the other hand, are limited to the algorithms created by programmers, and these can take a while to design, test, ad implement. Google is constantly adding cards to Google Now, but the service is limited only to the cards and options they create. Opening it up to an API or allowing user suggested cards could increase the usefulness of Google Now.

The app also introduces concerns about security and privacy, but it is completely opt-in, and Google is a very reputable company. No serious security issues have been reported yet, and the app has a great reputation. Google Now will naturally appeal more to some users than others due to the limited functionality, but overall it is a great product and has a lot of potential.