Google Now presents information on mobile devices when certain conditions are met, based on what can be determined from users' Web histories, location data and history, calendar data and other inputs. For example, the software can publish a notification advising the recipient to leave his or her current location for a restaurant reservation, based on Google's knowledge of real-time traffic data and a calendar entry of the reservation.
Available since July 2012 for Android devices, when it launched as part of Android 4.1 (a.k.a. Jelly Bean), Google Now turned up in a promotional video in March that suggested a future iOS release. Later that month, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt indicated an iOS version was waiting for Apple's approval.
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"Google Now is about giving you just the right information at just the right time," said Google engineer Andrea Huey in a blog post. "It can show you the day's weather as you get dressed in the morning, or alert you that there's heavy traffic between you and your butterfly-inducing date -- so you'd better leave now! It can also share news updates on a story you've been following, remind you to leave for the airport so you can make your flight and much more."
Google Now represents Google's future rather than its present. At the moment, the company still derives most of its revenue from desktop search advertising. But probably within a year or two, mobile search usage will surpass desktop search usage and Google can be expected to continue investing in technologies that will help its advertising business thrive in the post-PC era.
Google CEO Larry Page recently observed during his company's Q1 2012 earnings call that typing on a mobile device is a hassle. In keeping with that belief, Google has been pushing to advance voice input and services such as Google Now that don't require typing on mobile phones. As if to demonstrate that, Huey observes in her blog post, "Voice Search is particularly handy on the go..."
With more and more wearable computing devices coming to market, services like Google Now that don't require keyboard input are likely to proliferate.
Al Hilwa, program director for applications development software at research firm IDC, said in an email that Google Now, like Apple's Siri, matters because of the shift toward voice interfaces for search. "In fact, for the promise of wearable computing to be delivered, these mechanisms of interaction are a must and I expect they will evolve rapidly over the next couple of years," Hilwa said.
One potential problem, however, is privacy. "There is clearly a tradeoff for users as they have to provide a great deal of personal information to the service to get relevant and effective contextual help," Hilwa explained. "This data is potentially used for any number of other things the user may not be aware of, but some users will find this a worthwhile gambit, especially as the technology evolves to provide more effective assistance in day-to-day life."