Remember the old days when people had secretaries to link
them to the outside world? These helpful humans would tell their bosses where
they had to be, who they were going with, and what to bring along. Now technology
has rendered this position nearly obsolete, much like lamplighters in Victorian

Figure A

Google Now takes the digital assistant concept one step
further (which is probably why it was called “The
Innovation of the Year” by Popular Science
last year).

Figure B

Google Now provides more than just calendar reminders or new
email alerts. It uses cards for certain informational categories to deliver
real-time status updates. For instance, it can tell you how much further you
have to go to get to work by triangulating your route and the traffic
conditions ahead (of course, I recommend you look at this while you’re getting coffee
or filling your gas tank, not while driving!). Now can notify you of weather
forecasts, news information, movie times or sports scores. It can help assist
you with language translations and currency conversions if you go abroad. Its
voice activated (comparisons to Siri are inevitable, of course) and can be used
to look up information, ask for directions, and more.

The Devil in the Details

Keep in mind that Google Now has certain privacy
implications you should be aware of. The program can record audio, and accesses
these details and functions on your phone as part of its capability set:

  • Accounts
  • Contact and calendar data
  • Location and network
    information including Bluetooth)
  • Text messages (it can
    read/edit/send texts)
  • Phone (it can make calls
    and access the call log)
  • USB storage
  • Web bookmarks and history

Now also uses predictive analysis to get to know your
habits; it factors in your searches, Gmail data, Calendar, Google Finance, and
some minor Google+ data. This is how it gets to know you so it can serve you
better. That last sentence may sound either creepy or logical depending on your
mindset, but after using Now for a couple of weeks I really like how it
intelligently figured stuff out about me. For instance, it guessed where I work
(I had to confirm this on the screen), and so now I routinely get Now cards
telling me how long I can expect to get to work as well as some info about
travel conditions:

Figure C

See how Now also picked up on another place I visited, and
asked me whether I care about travel time to get there? In this case I
declined, but it’s a handy way to gauge your expected travel strategies if you
are often on the go.

Getting up and running with Google Now

Now is available for Android 4.1.1 and iOS users. Android
smartphones may already have Now installed by default, however, it is available
if that is not the case. IPhone and iPad users can get Now
by installing
the iOS version of the Google Search app
, where it can be installed through

Once the app is present, there are a few ways to open it on
an Android, depending on which version you have. Some models will let you swipe
up from the bottom of the screen. Others will let you touch and hold the Home
button to launch the app. My Motorola Droid requires me to open the Google icon
on my Home Screen (the one with the blue “G”):

Figure D

If you haven’t used Google Now yet, a tutorial will launch. Click
Next through the various pages, which will show you sample cards you can use.

Figure E

Figure F

Figure G

Tap “Yes, I’m in” and the following notices will

Figure H

Figure I

Once you click OK, the app will appear.

Figure J

In the above screenshot, my version of Now was outdated and
I was prompted to get the latest one available, which I proceeded to do by
accepting the prompt and proceeding with the install. I then returned to the
program and viewed a list of sample cards as shown below.

Figure K

Weather is pretty straightforward, so I selected the option
to display a sample card.

Figure L

A sample card for a reminder looked as follows.

Figure M

Flight information was shown as thus.

Figure N

And sports scores were similar to the following.

Figure O

Once cards appear to alert you of useful information you can
swipe them to the right to close them.

Customizing Now

It’s possible to configure Google Now to show all cards or
to turn off the ones you’re not interested in. To do so, open Now, access the
menu button, and choose Settings.

Figure P

Tap “Google Now” to select the cards you want on
or off.

Figure Q

If further customization is possible, you can tap the card
to gain more settings. For instance, I scrolled down and tapped “Weather.”

Figure R

This allows me to set the Weather card to show me conditions
in various places.

The full list of available cards (as of July, 2013) contains:

  • Activity summary (exercise
  • Birthdays
  • Events nearby
  • Flights
  • Gmail-related
    notifications (tickets, flights, hotels, package deliveries, restaurant
  • Movies
  • New albums/books/TV
    episodes/video games
  • News updates
  • Next appointment
  • Offers
  • Photo spots nearby
  • Places (restaurants, bars,
  • Public alerts like weather
  • Public transit data
  • Reminders
  • Research topics
  • Sports
  • Stocks
  • Traffic
  • Travel tools (currency
    exchange and language translation)
  • Weather

You can also set up Now to notify you if various things
happen. Access the menu button, and choose Settings.

Figure S

Access “Notifications.”

Figure T

In my case I have all the notifications turned on. Public
alerts has come in handy for cluing me into flash floods in my area and even a
tornado warning at the office (which fortunately didn’t hit).

My colleague Jack Wallen wrote
a great piece
earlier this month on using Google Now on an Android
tablet. This article includes tips on how to enter your places, sports, and
stocks as well as setting up the voice options. Jack also covered how to optimize
Now to use your Google Search history. Rather than duplicate his efforts I
recommend you check his column out to see how to flex the power of Now even

Voice activation

Speaking of the voice capability, it can work wonders to
both serve and enlighten you. Open Now and you will see the microphone icon.

Figure U

You can tape the microphone icon or just say “Google.”
Personally, I say “Hello, Google,” since I try to be polite, even to
artificially intelligent entities (thanks to “2001: A Space Odyssey”).

Figure V

The “Speak Now” screen will appear.

Figure W

You can ask the voice assistant your question or make a
request. I asked it to remind me to pack lunch tomorrow morning.

Figure X

I then tapped “Set reminder” and the deal was

I tried asking “Who is the President of the United
States?” The voice assistant verbally informed me that it is Barack Obama.
I then asked “Who won the Best Actor Oscar in 1971?” The voice
assistant didn’t tell me, but it did present me with a list of websites that
could help.

Figure Y

Questions about the meaning of life, what the voice
assistant looks like and so forth resulted in further Google searches; it’s
evident that Google’s version of the product is less whimsical than Apple’s
Siri. I was impressed by the program’s ability to correctly decipher my voice
input; not a word was mistranslated.

provides a list of Google voice commands which might prove

  • Who is the CEO of Google?
  • What is the meaning of
  • Show me the stocks for
  • What time is it in New
  • Will it rain tomorrow?
  • Show all hotels near me.
  • Go to Digital Trends.
  • What is 13 stones in
  • Premier league table.
  • Play Blue Monday.
  • Wake me up in an hour.
  • Call Jenny.
  • Images of the Empire State
  • When will BA 2215 land?
  • When is my next
  • Remind me to take out the
    trash when I get home.
  • Launch Google

In summary

Google Now is a product that demonstrates the fulfilled
promise of technology by helping us to navigate through the swamp of daily
details. It’s simple, easy to use, and provides immediate benefit. In just a
couple of weeks I’ve become an addict and have found it useful both for work
and recreation.

In case you are wondering, Google
will be bringing Now to the Chrome browser soon
. This will help
provide it with a greater operating realm and further functions and cards, both
business and consumer oriented, are undoubtedly forthcoming. For instance, Google
is working on a customized news card
for greater informational
relevance for users.

If you need further information on how to use Google Now,
check out Google’s
support page
. Danny Sullivan also wrote a great
piece back in April on the topic