July 2013 – Tina Courtney-Brown – Featured –
If you haven’t yet discovered the glorious world of virtual assistants, it’s time to meet Google Now. A bit like the more robust version of Apple’s Siri, Google Now acts like the quiet, informative personal assistant you’ve always wanted but couldn’t justify affording. Sure, it certainly pervades your privacy to figure out just what you need to know and when (just like the human variety!), but if you’re willing to take that risk, the rewards are plenty.
Google Now: A Definition
Google Now officially launched in the Jelly Bean Android operating system what seems like ages ago, and is now available in both Google Play and Apple app stores. It works on tablets, too. Because it needs to access all your personal data, it is necessary to first turn Google Now on, as the default is set to off (which is a good thing, or some of us would really get paranoid.) You’ll also need to enable Web history, location services, and other allowances, depending on the features you’re after.
Once triggered, Google Now will serve you a series of “cards” throughout the day, which aim to keep you informed about valuable time-saving tidbits. Examples include weather forecasts, flight information, meeting schedules, and sports updates. These will either show up as notifications, or will display when you launch Chrome via your enabled smartphone. Keep in mind that just like most apps, Google Now is a work in progress. What you currently see is likely a skeleton of what it will become.
An Upgrade from Siri
Google Now is like hiring a more efficient and reliable Siri, Apple’s own version of a virtual assistant. Although both have their strengths and weaknesses, Google Now seems much more robust and functional over the not-so-reliable Siri. Like its Apple counterpart, Google Now responds to voice commands for a host of functions. The good news is this aspect of the app works like a charm. Use it to verbally set appointments or alarms, ask what time a business opens or closes, find out where the nearest Starbucks is located, or inquire if you need to bring an umbrella out on the town this eve. Essentially, what Google Now excels at is providing little time savers throughout the day. These really add up over time, however, and you may find an extra chunk in your busy day to do something other than chase down pertinent information. Siri covers a few of these commands, but definitely not all of them.
A Sampling of Google Now Cards
Below is a list of some of the more functional Google Now cards, including a couple just added this month. If any of the recent additions are any indication, you’re going to want to offer your new virtual assistant a raise (good thing he’s free.)
Traffic – For those among us who endure small and large commutes, this card gives you a real-time snapshot of your loaded route. Google Now uses recent searches and common location patterns to determine the places you visit most, or you can set your home and work locations to take away the guess work.
Appointments – Synced with Google Calendar, this card works with the Traffic card to give you reminders and route suggestions. Just before you’re set to leave. Google Now will alert you to traffic complications too. And you don’t even have to ask.
Translation and Currency – These two cards are indispensable if you travel overseas. They offer instant conversions and suggestions in just about any international language and currency.
Weather – Each morning along with your friendly alarm, Google Now will give you a local forecast for both your home and work destinations. Immensely useful, for obvious reasons. (This card only works if you’ve set your location to “on.”)
Places – Also useful for the frequent traveler, this card suggests local restaurants, coffee shops, and points of interest, all based on what Google Now has learned about your habits thus far. Without even needing to inquire, you’ll receive great dinner suggestions, and even a cocktail hotspot too.
Books, TV Shows, Video Games, Music, Movies – Google Now also suggests various types of media tailored to your preferences. It’s a clever way to help drive Google Play sales too, in addition to being valuable to the end user. This is why we can hire a stellar virtual assistant for free; because the assistant does some heavy lifting for the real boss, Google. It’s a fair trade-off.
The Issue of Privacy
It’s painfully obvious that for Google Now to have the ability to suggest truly relevant content and updates for a given user, it needs to know a lot of personal information: GPS location, your travel plans, meeting times, etc. For many, the trade-off is well worth the privacy invasion. If you are wary, be comforted with the knowledge that you must trigger Google Now on for any of this data to be accessible. If the allure of a virtual assistant helping throughout your day is not enticing, even at the hourly rate of free, then don’t activate the service, and sleep well at night. It is admittedly creepy, and also admittedly really, really helpful.
The true allure of Google Now is not that it’s a genius new app, but that it’s quietly intelligent, and only grows more so as it learns all about the uniqueness that is you. There are no bells and whistles, no whiz-bang features, just a steady stream of valuable, customizable information, unsolicited, that often lands at the moment you need it. For busy professionals, this kind of repetitive time saving assistance is worth its weight in gold. The one thing we can never seem to have enough of is time. Google Now gifts back that precious commodity, a few moments at a time, which of course adds up in a hurry. Although it’s true that the tool is invasive, it has to be to provide this level of value. It all comes down to trust. Do you trust Google with this information, or not? If you do, get Google Now – now.