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Fritz Nelson
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Google Now Points To Future Of Mobile

I've been testing Google Now for a few weeks on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and the Google Nexus 7 tablet. Search innovation is alive and well.

Despite my near constant use of the Galaxy Nexus phone, Google Now still has plenty to learn about me. It knows that I am a Dodgers fan, because I looked up scores for a couple of days. Now I've got a permanent Dodger card in Google Now and it provides me with real-time scores of games (it's been depressingly inconsistent lately).

It does well providing local weather reports, even as I move around. It provides a decent reminder of my appointments, but I've got a Google Calendar widget that does a more thorough job. However, when I enter in an address for an appointment, it does alert me in an interesting way: It tells me, based on distance and traffic data, what time I need to leave my current location in order to make my appointment on time. In some ways, I actually wish this notification was more intrusive (or that I had the option to make it so, especially for the most important appointments). But this is a layer of data that is really valuable. It starts to scratch at Google Now's promise.

Fortunately, I travel very little during the summer, so I haven't been able to take advantage of any flight information or mass transit cards. And I’ve spent a few weeks working away from the office, so Google Now was initially confused about my more permanent locations (work and home). By default, Google Now views the time you spend during the weekday to be "work" and the time you spend in the evening to be "home." Luckily, you can go into your location settings and force Google Now toward the truth.

Location-based searches worked sporadically. Once, I did a few searches on both Chinese and Asian restaurants, an hour or so before heading out on some errands that would end around dinner time. And then, because I knew I'd be driving by one Asian restaurant in particular (Pei Wei), I searched for it in my browser. During my errands, Google Now presented several Chinese restaurants, all about 15 miles away from where I was (the results were closer to my home), even though there was a preponderance of such restaurants nearby. Indeed, despite my specific Pei Wei search, a notification failed to materialize, even as I drove right by.

I’m underwhelmed, but undeterred.

The Future Of Search

For now, it seems a novelty, an enhancement to notifications, an accompaniment to outdo Apple's Siri.

But the more searches you conduct, the more places you go, the more you use your phone, the smarter Google Now gets. Over time, it will feed ever more useful data, so the promise goes.

One reaction people have to opting into Google Now is that it is, truly, watching you. Even though Google Now is a completely opt-in service (it contained no data until I gave it permission), doubters questions what Google will do with all of this data. Will employers ask for controls to tap into the data? How about legal authorities?

It's becoming clearer that Apple, Microsoft, and Google want to engineer their ecosystems so that customers get the most value by choosing only one of them--for the operating systems, browsers, applications, cloud and hardware. There's an end-user advantage, to be sure: the promise of a seamless user experience across devices (laptop, tablet, phone), and the movement of data among those devices using each company's notion of a personal cloud (Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, Apple iCloud). But the disadvantages abound: less freedom of choice, dependence on your chosen ecosystem for innovation at a time of dynamic and exciting change. What just became state-of-the-art from Google in June will quickly be surpassed by Apple in October.

There's plenty to be said for choosing Google. While it's completely absent on the desktop (unless you really want to count Chrome and the Chrome OS), it has been a fast innovator. In its latest incarnation, Google Now provides meaningful voice-based search. Not just a spoken word search, but, like Apple's Siri, the ability to request facts (the height of the Empire State Building), rather than just a search results page. Google Now can call a contact, provide directions, and answer your most pressing questions (although when I asked for the nearest hospital, however, it gave me a veterinary hospital; long story short, I lived), providing much of this information back by voice response.

Google Now gets incredibly interesting when you consider the possibility of third-party developer access. It’s great to get flight information from the Web, but it's far more interesting if my flight apps tie into Google Now. What about my banking apps? It would be nice if those could feed Google Now to remind me about bills I need to pay, possible unauthorized transactions, or even let me make mobile payments.

If I want to work at my nearby Peet's Coffee shop every morning, why can't Peet's write an application that knows, using Google Now, that I'm heading that way, that I'm leaving now, that it will take 10 minutes, that I usually enjoy a medium Cafe Au Lait, and that I need a Wi-Fi code ... as I close in on Peet's my order appears to a barista, who makes it and I'm handed the drink and Wi-Fi access as I enter. Or maybe half way there, Peet's alerts me to a special deal on fresh-brewed Kona Coffee in a french press machine, letting me change my order on the fly.

On the other hand, we don't know what Apple has up its sleeve. Rumors persist that Siri will pervade everything from the remote control to your Apple TV experience. Already, Apple will likely surpass Google Wallet with the Passport service in iOS 6, so it, too, is thinking about how it can automate applications into a more nimble, convenient user experience. (Microsoft Windows Phone 8 will include a Wallet Hub, with similar designs.)

But until then, there’s Google Now. While some have said that Google has lost its way from its search heritage, pointing to its obsession with Google Plus, Google Now offers plenty of evidence that its search innovation is alive and well.

At this year's InformationWeek 500 Conference, C-level execs will gather to discuss how they're rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

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Samir Shah
Samir Shah,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/27/2012 | 11:35:03 AM
re: Google Now Points To Future Of Mobile
The real revolution will happen when Google Now matures and Google Glasses is good enough to use.
Andrew Hornback
Andrew Hornback,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/26/2012 | 3:31:41 AM
re: Google Now Points To Future Of Mobile
Something like this could put a whole new spin on the idea of BYOD - if you use Google Now on your device, things might start showing up that you don't exactly want your employer to know about.

Love the technology and I can't wait to see it (really wishing Samsung/Verizon would release an update for my device, Gingerbread is getting a little stale).

With regards to your coffee shop scenario - perhaps that's another revenue stream that Google will be tapping into, not just advertising, but allowing you to place an order, etc. and just pick it up when you get there. Google may have gotten distracted from the search business, but they've got their eyes on making money (as an advertising platform).

Andrew Hornback
InformationWeek Contributor
User Rank: Apprentice
7/25/2012 | 9:19:48 PM
re: Google Now Points To Future Of Mobile
I love the fact that Google is building toward the future and really empowering the user. I just got a Nexus for my graphic design work here in Atlanta, and it's fantastic. I love the innovative features of Jelly Bean, and best of all, it's 4G LTE enabled. I just signed on with AT&T and their 4G LTE speeds are lightning fast! Best phone i've owned!
David Berlind
David Berlind,
User Rank: Apprentice
7/25/2012 | 6:20:20 PM
re: Google Now Points To Future Of Mobile
Apple's iPhone 5 will very likely, from a smartphone functionality POV, blow everything including Android away. Having recently switched from an iPhone 4s to the same phone you discuss in this review, I can say that I'm underwhelmed by overall smartphone functionality (at the OS level) but overwhelmed by the vision that the mobile device becomes less of a smartphone and more of just a client sitting atop a massive cloud that's working for me 24/7. Apple's problem here is its cloud. It is missing some of the most important touch points that are necessary to learn about you Fritz, or me, or any other user.

From a business objective perspective, Apple has, for the most part, viewed mobile devices as front ends to its commerce infrastructure because that's all Apple really has in the cloud is a commerce infrastructure. It's all about transactions and ARPU. How many songs, apps, and books or magazines do I buy from iTunes once I have an iPod Touch, iPad, or iPhone? How many in app purchases do I make where Apple takes it's cut.

Meanhwhile, the cloud behind Google Now & Friends is so much more. It's about search. It's about social. It's about geo (which Apple is now finally getting into). And by the time it matters, Google's maturity on these fronts will come to bear in ways that Apple has no chance of answering. In fact, ironically, the company that comes closest to Google in terms of assets needed to build the future you speak of Fritz is Microsoft. It may lack the reach, but the assets are not that different.
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