Google Now blends search and location data to advise you when you're close to a store that sells something you've recently searched for.
The latest update to the Google Search application for Android devices adds an interesting new card that promises to make shopping a bit easier.
Google Now is a function of Google Search that serves up "cards" with information. Some of the first such cards offered a glimpse of the local weather, the latest sports scores, and traffic alerts. Google has been adding new features to Google Now at a steady pace and recently rolled out an update that marries search history with location.
According to Google, users who've searched for physical goods, such as hiking boots, will see a card in Google Now alerting them when they are near a store that carries those boots. The card will show the price of the boots, as well as the exact location of the nearby shop. The one limitation of the card is that it won't tell the user whether or not the item is in stock. A quick call to the store (phone number provided) could help determine the boots' availability, as could a trip to the store.
This tool could be helpful if you're the forgetful type and need to be reminded to buy certain things. Of course, it could also be a disaster if you're prone to impulse shopping. Seeing an alert that an item is nearby might be just the right impetus needed to make an unnecessary purchase.
Last week Google trotted out another, more helpful card within Google Now: one that helps you find your car. The app can be used to automatically set the location of your vehicle. Later, when it is time to return to your car, a card in Google Now will show the location on a map, list the approximate address, and indicate how far the phone is from the car. If the card isn't accurate, it will list several alternative addresses. This card can be particularly useful if you've parked in an unfamiliar neighborhood or city.
(As an aside, there's no shortage of actual "find my car" apps in the Play Store to help you do this same thing.)
Google did not say if the GPS radio inside the smartphone needs to be turned on in order for these cards to function properly. Google can determine the location of a phone without GPS, but GPS provides the most accurate data. Google can use both WiFi and cellular network details to locate smartphones. WiFi is the best alternative to GPS; GPS radios take a toll on battery life, but can be toggled on/off quickly if need be.
Google Search is free for all Android devices, but these new features only function on phones running Android 4.1.1 and up.
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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio
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