Google Now Points To Future Of Mobile - InformationWeek

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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.

Armed with your mobile phone you are now a mobile sensor, careening along your footpath, reading your email, consuming your information, enriching your journey with timely recommendations as you dodge passersby. Tap. Swipe. Pinch. Zoom. Learn of the world.

And the world quietly learns about you, at least as organized by Google.

Don't be frightened. Soon you won't be wondering what else you can do with your phone, you'll be amazed by what it does for you.

At least that's the promise of GoogleNow.

Google Now is more of a mobile experience than an application, more of a search service than a search action. It could well redefine mobile search.

Certainly its name betrays its ambition.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. For starters, Google Now is still learning. It gets some things right, and some things oddly wrong. In that sense, it's more like Google Soon than Google Now.

Google Knowledge Graph

I've been testing Google Now for a few weeks on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and the Google Nexus 7 tablet. Google Now is part of Jelly Bean, the newest version of Google's mobile Android operating system.

It’s powered by Google's Knowledge Graph, unveiled a few months ago. As Google puts it, the Knowledge Graph creates connections between objects (entities) based on observed relationships and patterns--observed, that is, through Google Search.

(Fast Company offers up some insight into Google Knowledge Graph, while Mashable has some excellent insights into how Knowledge Graph could change the future of search.)

King Penguin: Google Search Results

Today, for instance, when you search for penguins, Google presents a panel on the right-hand side of the search page showing the Pittsburgh-based hockey team or the animal. A subtle but important shift, Google would say, from being an information engine to becoming a knowledge engine. What's more, the search for "king penguin" provides rich information, including its scientific name, species and so on. The Knowledge Graph attempts to provide the information it thinks you'll want.

If the Knowledge Graph is about delivering the right content, Google Now is about delivering it in the right context.

How Google Now Works

There are three (and a half) ways to access Google Now directly: from the search bar on the Android home screen, from the Google app, and by swiping up from the bottom of the home screen (a bit redundant, frankly). Alerts driven from Google Now can also show up in the Android notifications (this is the half).

The Google Now interface provides a series of "cards," all driven by what Google learns about you, which is to say what you allow Google to learn about you--it's entirely an opt-in experience.

What this means is that your location, your searches, your travel habits (by car, using Google Maps and location services; by air, using your searches for flight status; by public transit using location) and your calendar data all get filtered, processed, and eventually understood (your context) and mapped to pieces of information Google might know (the content).

For example, Google Now follows your searches for restaurants, and as you drive about, it will pop up suggestions based on time of day (like dinner time). It learns your favorite sports teams, and creates cards that follow the action in real time. It knows the flights you've searched and provides flight status automatically. There are cards for currency (when it knows you're in a different country) and language translation.

Much of this capability relies on search, and while it can comb through your searches in the native Android browser, it can also use Google's Chrome. And because Chrome essentially maintains your search session state across devices, something you've searched for with Chrome on the desktop (or on an iPad) gets fed into Google Now on the mobile device. You have to be signed into your Google account for all of this to work, naturally.

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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.
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!
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
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.
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