When Google Now first landed on Android, I was certain that the future was here, and Google would finally be responsible for bringing about some sort of singularity. Well... the machines didn't take over, but Google Now certainly became one of the most powerful digital assistants on the market.
As is turns out, Google Now was nothing more than the big bang for what Google would eventually bring to market: Google Now On Tap. This new iteration of the digital assistant looks to make its progenitor look like a Texas Instruments Speak And Spell.
But what is Now On Tap, and how in the world could Google possibly improve on what they already have? To put it simply, when Android "M" rolls out, Google Now will no longer be an app installed on top of the platform—it will become a core part of the platform. The Google Gestalt, as it were. Now On Tap will serve to tie the whole of the platform together.
This is game changing, and it's mobile innovation at its best.
How does Now On Tap work?
Forget what you know about Google Now. Considering Now On Tap will not longer be just an app, it certainly must function in a completely different manner—and it does. Imagine that you have an app open on your screen (say Rotten Tomatoes, reading reviews of a film). When you hold down your home button, Now On Tap will open a card that gives you even more information about the film (say show times and even a quick link to purchase tickets at your local cinema). Or perhaps you're viewing a text message from your spouse that asks if a particular restaurant is open. If you hold down the home button, information about that very restaurant will appear, including the ability to make a reservation! Or maybe you're listening to a song and you ask "Okay Google, when was this song released?" Bam! Information.
Google drops the mic and walks away.
Of course, at the moment, Now On Tap only focuses on text, so in order for it to work with the latter scenario, you'd have to have text on the screen with the song title. Naturally, Google plans on expanding the reach of Now On Tap beyond plain text.
Take a look at Google Now On Tap in action.
What about privacy?
It's as if Google itself was creeping on your conversation. In a sense, they will be. Sort of. In order for the great Google to be able to dole out extra information about a given topic, they have to know what the given topic is. In other words, they have to know what's on your screen or what you're listening to or watching. However, Google doesn't invade your personal space until you hold down the home button to call up Now On Tap. And once the information has been delivered, Google silently slips away into the good night. Google won't peek over your shoulder until you allow it to. And Google is working on a method for marking sensitive information (such as bank account details) so that it can't be used with Now On Tap. Google has also gone on record to say that data used for Now On Tap will immediately be discarded. Zero history is retained. Period. End of story.
For users who still feel that this is a bit too Orwellian, you'll be happy to know that Now On Tap will be an opt-out experience. If you don't want Google listening in, opt out. Simple. Opt in once for Google Now, and opt in a second time for Google Now On Tap. If you want to stick with the tried and true Google Now, opt in the first time, and opt out the second. If you want the full power of Now On Tap, opt in that second time and enjoy what might well be the single most comprehensive digital concierge you have ever witnessed.
I've been a big fan of Google Now for some time. I personally think that it surpassed the competition quite some time ago. However, when Google On Tap is finally released with Android "M," the game will completely change. This digital concierge will be ready to offer you contextual information at the press of a button.
Is Google on the money here—or do you think Now On Tap is something that they should NOT be developing? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.
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Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.