Mobile users need information. They thrive on it. And having immediate access to the most up-to-date information is what being mobile is all about. Every platform offers myriad means of providing that information. Google thinks it has the single best platform for the dissemination of information. That platform? Google Now.
Google Now is an app that helps bring you the information you want when you need it. Information can be location or event based. But even though Google Now has been around for a while, most users don't quite get it. If you're one of those users (or if you're a bit foggy on just what Google Now can do), read on.
1: Android and IOS
Google Now isn't just for Android. You'll find this app on both the Google Play Store and the iPhone App Store. Many iPhone users might actually find Google Now superior to Siri. That's right: If you're on the fence about whether Siri is the right mobile assistant for you, give Google Now a try and see if it doesn't win you over.
2: All in the cards
Google Now provides information via cards. A card is a small block of information pertaining to one category. For example, you will have a card for your local weather, a card for your favorite sports team(s), cards for local events, and so on. Each type of card will contain different information and even, in some cases, clickable links. Sometimes a card will open a web site; other times, a link will open up related cards (and sometimes the related cards, when clicked, will finally open a web site). Google Now lives and dies by these cards.
3: Background checking
Google Now does all its data gathering in the background. Yes, this can put a slight hit on your battery life -- but no more so than any other application that updates data in the background. If you're concerned more about your battery life than you are the convenience Google Now adds to the mobile experience, you'll need to disable the feature and manually gather your information. If you're happy with your device's battery life (even with background data on), enjoy Google Now.
4: Samples to build on
At first, Google Now won't have much information to share with you. When you first launch it, you should look through the sample cards. If you see one you like, you can always configure it to fit your needs.
5: Data from voice
Much of Google Now's relevant data comes from searches done via Voice Search. The more you use Voice Search, the more applicable the Google Now data will be. That may seem obvious, as the more you use Google Now (period), the more it will have to offer. But by making use of Voice Search, you expedite the process of Google Now learning exactly how to refine information for your needs.
6: Data from location
Google Now will also pull data from your location. If you're paranoid about your privacy, you might be less willing to set up location services. But if you aren't so concerned about having your privacy invaded, you can configure your device to enable Location & Google Search | Show Recent Searches from within the Privacy settings (Android). From within Google Now settings, inside the Accounts & Privacy section, enable Web History and Personal Results. On that same screen, tap Google Location Settings and make sure Location is enabled.
7: Home and Work locations
To make Google Now more intuitive (especially when it comes to giving you traffic information to and from work), you'll need to configure two locations: Home and Work. From within the Google Now customization window (tap the Magic Wand icon), tap Places. On this screen you should see both Home and Work. Tap the Home entry and enter the address for your home. Save that and then tap the Work entry and enter the address for work. Once you've done that, Google Now can do a better job of keeping you abreast of drive times and traffic issues for your commute.
8: Swiping cards
When you've read a card, you can swipe it to the right to hide it. Just because a card isn't visible on your screen doesn't mean you've lost it forever. For example: You read your weather card and swipe it the right to hide it. When you change your location, that weather card will return. That's Google Now keeping you informed. If you accidentally swipe away a card, you can always undo that action immediately. When you swipe away a card, a small overlay will appear asking if you want to Undo the action or if you're Done Now. Tap Undo to bring the card back or Done Now to continue.
9: Locations for calendar events
When you create an event in your Google calendar, be sure to add a location. Google Now will then tell you when you need to leave your current location to arrive on time – a big help for those constantly on the go. These locations can be added to Google Calendar events from either the mobile calendar (one that is integrated with your Google account) or from the Google Calendar web app. Either way, that information will sync with Google Now.
10: Ongoing refinements
As you use Google Now, it will continue to better refine itself just for you. You might think, upon first use, that Google Now isn't much help. As you continue with your Google Now relationship, you should notice a marked improvement with regard to the relevancy and frequency of the cards it shows you. Google Now does an amazing job fine-tuning itself to fit your needs.
A little help
We're all looking for the means to make our days more productive and efficient. Google Now can help with both, even if in only some small way. Give Google Now a try and see if you don't find yourself relying on this handy app more and more to get you through the day.
Have you used Google Now? Are you concerned about its privacy implications? Share your experiences and opinions with fellow TechRepublic members.
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.