My cell phone turned two years old last week and, like anyone one else who waits for their service plans to expire, I was desperate to get that upgrade and see the thing go. Cell phone technology moves really quickly these days, because while my PC at home is nearing 2 years old I dont think of it as being outdated or in need of replacement. My phone on the other hand felt like a fax machine in my pocket compared to all the cool stuff I’d been seeing lately. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2 was particularly interesting to me because the larger screen and S-Pen had me picturing a phone/digital sketchpad which is awesome, and the review on engadget sealed it for me. The phone is super sweet, but I don’t actually want to talk about that today. Instead I want to talk about Google Now which is a service form Google that came out last year for the Jelly Bean operating system, and it is blowing my mind.
So, we all know that Google is basically spying on us while we search the internet. Collecting a bunch of data on where we go and what we search for, and for what? To cater ads to my specific tastes? Not that exciting. Google Now is the first time I’ve felt that all this spying was actually going toward a good use. What the service does is basically look at all my searches, calendar events, check-ins, locations, and makes an educated guess about what I’m going to ‘google’ before I actually search for it. Checking Google Now on my phone during the day might reveal the score to the Mariners game, show me cool events that are happening near by, warn me about a traffic jam on I-25 for the drive home, and remind me that I’m meeting my wife at Target at 7pm. Google has brought all of this to my attention without me having to prompt it or search for anything.
While some people might think this sounds a little creepy, I find it to be the natural progression of a fully digital assistant. An assistant in real life is helpful because they know all about your schedule and your habits and can organize and present you with what you need at the right moment. This is offering the same thing, but without having to have a real person following you around. I just use Google to set appointments and search for stuff and Google Now spits back it’s best guess at what I want at this very second based on what I’m doing and where I am.
While Google Now is a great concept, the service is definitely not perfect by any means. ‘Now’ keeps showing me a pretty crappy Mexican food restaurant near my work and seems bent on suggesting nothing else. It also doesn’t seem to have any way for me to influence the results when it starts giving me odd recommendations. If a real life assistant kept telling me about a death metal concert this friday I could tell them “What? I hate death metal” and they would probably stop suggesting it. Not Google Now.
Even with these few shortcomings I think Google Now is poised to be the next breakthrough piece of software that revolutionizes how we use our phones. I’ll be excited to see updates as they roll out and hopefully they can address some of the issues users have run into. I feel like if Google is going to spy on me and monitor where I’m going on the internet than atleast they should be giving me back a cool feature in return. Google Now is finally that feature.