Google Now Update Improves Voice Commands

Google's personal assistant software gets upgraded to better manage owners' lives and understand natural language requests.
Google made a new version of its Google Search application available to Android devices recently. The updated software adds a handful of new cards to the personal assistant, which is now better able to process and respond to conversational commands.

Google Now is a part of Google's main search app. It is a tool that learns user behaviors over time and helps manage scheduling and interests. The basic user interface is presented as Cards, each of which centers on a specific bit of information. For example, the weather card shows the current conditions and brief forecast for the coming days. Google added new cards to the latest version of Google Now.

For starters, there's a new Website Card that can be programmed to alert users to new posts on their favorite sites. It takes only a moment to set up. Another new card centers on news topics. Users enter keywords and Google Now goes out and finds the latest articles on the Web about that particular keyword. Last, a new What to Watch card offers users movie and TV recommendations.

In addition to the cards, Google Now is better at incorporating real-time traffic data into daily commutes. The data, which comes from Waze, can be used to alert drivers that there are problems ahead before they get stuck in traffic. Google Now users can set repeat reminders by asking the software to do so, get real-time scores for rugby matches, and also see when packages are ready for in-store pickup.

These new features make the app more helpful than ever, but not as much as its new conversational powers do. The app now uses the same "hot word" available to Android 4.4 KitKat devices. It will automatically wake and begin listening to commands when the user says "OK Google." Previously, people had to first tap the microphone in the search bar to interact with their voice.

Further, prior to the update spoken requests had to be fairly robotic in nature. For example, people who wanted Google Now to initiate a text message or email had to say something akin to "send text message to Joe Smith." Now, users can speak more naturally. The same request can be initiated by saying "Send a new text message." The software will respond "To whom shall I address the message?" Being able to speak in a more natural way makes it easier to interact with the software.

Google Search is free to download from the Google Play Store. It is compatible with devices running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and up.

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