The Google app, featuring Now cards and voice commands
|July 9, 2012; 5 years ago (2012-07-09)|
5.5 / October 29, 2015
|Android 4.1+ ("Jelly Bean"), iOS 6.0+ and Chrome OS
Limited functionality in Microsoft Windows, OS X, Linux (via Google Chrome and the Google app)
|Intelligent personal assistant|
Google Now is an intelligent personal assistant developed by Google. It is available in the Google app for Android and iOS. Google Now uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations, and perform actions by delegating requests to a set of web services. Along with answering user-initiated queries, Google Now proactively delivers information to users that it predicts (based on their search habits) they may want. Google Now was previously activated by saying "Okay, Google Now," from either the Google app, or any screen. Google Now is currently activated by saying "Okay Google". Now "cards" are also available for Chrome OS in the notification center. Voice search and limited voice-commands are available in the Google app for Microsoft Windows, and through Google Search when using the Google Chrome web-browser.
It was first included in Android 4.1 ("Jelly Bean"), which launched on July 9, 2012, and was first supported on the Galaxy Nexus smartphone. The service became available for iOS on April 29, 2013, without most of its features. In 2014 Google added Now cards to the notification center in Chrome OS and in the Chrome browser, however the notification center was later removed entirely from the Chrome browser. Popular Science named Google Now the "Innovation of the Year" for 2012. Google Now competes against assistants such as Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana.
Since 2015, Google has gradually phased out reference to "Google Now" in the Google app, with remaining use of "Now" being largely removed in October 2016, including replacing "Now cards" with "feed". At Google I/O 2016, Google showcased its new intelligent personal assistant Google Assistant, which is seen as an evolution of Google Now. Unlike Google Now, however, Assistant can engage in two-way dialogue with the user.
In late 2011, reports surfaced that Google was enhancing its product Google Voice Search for the next version of Android. It was originally codenamed "Majel" after Majel Barrett, the wife of Gene Roddenberry and the voice of computer systems in the Star Trek franchise; it was also codenamed "assistant".
On June 27, 2012, Google Now was unveiled as part of the premier demonstration of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean at Google I/O 2012.
On October 29, 2012, Google Now received an update through the Google Play Store bringing the addition of Gmail cards. Google Now displays cards with information pulled from the user's Gmail account, such as flight information, package tracking information, hotel reservations and restaurant reservations (as long as the Gmail account is not a Google Apps account). Other additions were movie, concert, stock and news cards based on the users location and search history. Also included was the facility to create calendar events using voice input, for instance "Make a new appointment for dinner with Steve next Thursday at 7pm".
On December 5, 2012, an update to the Google Search application brought several new features to Google Now, including cards for nearby events, searching by camera when at a museum or shop, airplane boarding passes found from e-mail (United Airlines in the first instance, more airlines followed). In addition Google Now would show cards for the weather for upcoming travel destinations, birthday reminders; and monthly summaries of biking and walking activities. New voice action features included with this update include the ability to post to Google+, song recognition capabilities, and the ability to scan bar codes. However, when the Search 2.5 update hit, Google removed the "Search With Camera" feature.
On March 21, 2013, the executive Chairman of Google, Eric Schmidt, stated that Google had submitted an iOS version of Google Now to Apple for review and that the app was awaiting approval, but he later said that this was not true after Apple denied this was the case. Despite this, on April 29, 2013, Google Now was made available for iOS in an update to the operating system's Google Search application.
Based on Google Chrome code review on December 2012, Google Now was expected to be integrated into the desktop version of Google Chrome. According to Seth Rosenblatt of CNET, it is rumored that Google Now will also serve as iGoogle's replacement in November 2013. On May 15, 2013, at Google I/O 2013, Google announced the upcoming release of Google Now on desktop platforms; the feature will be accessible only via Google Chrome or Google Chrome OS. On January 16, 2014, an alpha version of the Google Now was made available on desktop through the Google Chrome Canary release although this app lacks some of the cards available on mobile version of Google Now such as public alerts, nearby photos, activity summary and stocks. On March 24, 2014, Google started rolling out Google Now for Google Chrome users who are signed into their Google account on the browser.
Google Now is implemented as an aspect of the Google Search application. It recognizes repeated actions that a user performs on the device (common locations, repeated calendar appointments, search queries, etc.) to display more relevant information to the user in the form of "cards". The system leverages Google's Knowledge Graph project, a system used to assemble more detailed search results by analyzing their meaning and connections.
Specialized cards currently comprise:
In January 2015, Google introduced the ability for participating, installed third-party apps to generate cards; on launch, this included apps such as Airbnb, eBay, The Guardian, Pandora Radio and Lyft among others.
Now on Tap
On Android 6.0 "Marshmallow", Google Now supports an additional feature known as "Now On Tap", which allows users to perform searches within the context of information currently being displayed in an app. When a user activates the feature, by holding the "Home" button or using a voice command, the entire text content of the current screen is parsed to search for keywords and other information (such as the names of people, television programs and films, etc.), which is then used to generate cards that display information, suggestions, and actions related to the content. Users can also use voice commands to ask questions related to the subjects of these cards.
Scott Webster of CNET praised Google Now for its ability to remind users of events based on past location histories and check-ins, and further commended it for providing "information instantly in a clean, intuitive manner" without the user's requesting it. A review by Ryan Paul of Ars Technica claims that like most other voice activated apps, including Siri, voice recognition is a major issue, but notes that the ability to type queries provides users with alternatives. Some commentators noted that Google Now's predictive power reveals "exactly how much data and information Google actually has about [users'] routines and daily lives." An October 2014 review on Android Central showed Google Now outperforming its competition, Siri and Cortana.
Comparison with Siri
Unlike Apple's assistant app Siri, which sources its information from specific websites, Google Now sources its information from any website deemed relevant. For example, on November 25, 2014, Search Engine Land published an article about how, when asked about "King Of United States," Google would inform the visitor that Barack Obama was the king of the United States, citing a sardonic conservative website. This has been mentioned as a weakness by some who prefer the Siri method, referring to the "King of the United States" example as a search engine error.
However, others argue that Google simply does the search differently, not incorrectly. Some people want Google to filter the results for "validity", but the competing opinion is that Google is not in the business of deciding whether certain listings deserve to be in the returned group of results.
In terms of speech recognition, various studies have indicated one or the other is slightly more accurate, with ratings typically in the mid-80% range.
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