When Google unveiled Jelly Bean, the latest edition of their Android OS, they showed off a new personal assistant-ish feature to rival Siri called Google Now. One part dictate-and-respond internet AI, the other part precognitive search engine, Google Now has the power to, based on your many Google searches, help you help yourself in ways you never thought imaginable. But having used it for a few weeks now, it’s obvious that it has a long way to go, but a lot of incredible potential. So how does it work?
Within a few days of installing Jelly Bean, Google Now began to learn things about me based on my Google account and location. It eventually found my workplace (well, to the closest cell tower, anyway) and where I lived through a combination of 3G, 4G, and wi-fi connections. When it does so, it asks you to confirm it. Then, when it assumes you have work, it’ll automatically pop up with how much traffic is backed up on your route and give you an ETA based on what traffic data it can pull and the ubiquitious Google Maps. When you ask it about a sports score – say, how the Broncos are doing (which is to say, poorly) – it’ll automatically update your Google Now page (accessible via the home button) and keep you posted on when games start, current scores, and finals. When you search for a particular location on your computer, it’ll let you know about that, too.
But there are gaps in Google’s coverage of, well, you, that prevent it from becoming a truly magical experience. Of course, volunteering this data would remove the magic even further, so it seems counter-intuitive, but there are some small steps they could take. Like, what if you could tie your Google Calendar data to actual locations, so Google began to learn where you were going and provide info that way? Perhaps give more local recommendations, too? What if Google learned that people worked weekends, like I do, and prepared information on those days, too? What if the personal assistant enunciated more results, rather than dumping you to a boring web search whenever your question didn’t involve sports scores or time of day?
I have no doubt the service is going to improve dramatically over time, or as I give it more data, or both, but I just wish it was more useful.