Mobility

Google Now on Android Jelly Bean is more than just a search feature

Jack Wallen takes a look at Google Now, a new feature that comes with Android 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean).

If you recently received an update to your Android smartphone, and that update is 4.1.1 (Jelly Bean) or greater, you now have the new Google Now extended Android search functionality. Google Now is more than about searching — it's about information that's pertinent to you. This new feature on Jelly Bean pops up cards that display the following information:

  • Weather
  • Events
  • Research topics
  • Traffic
  • Travel
  • Flights
  • Public transit
  • Places
  • Sports
  • Stocks
  • News updates
  • Photo spots nearby
  • Birthdays

The information is based on contextual data from your phone and other Google products (such as Google Mail). Cards can be generated based on:

  • Time of day
  • Location
  • Google Mail

What's truly nice about this feature (besides its general functionality) is that there's little to no setup required. Once you've enabled Google Now, it should just work. Of course, you can fine tune the service, but the out-of-the-box experience should satisfy you.

Getting Google Now

You won't know your device even has Google Now until you kick off a search by tapping the Google Search bar on the home screen. If you tap the search bar and the standard search appears, check to see if there's an update for your phone. I will warn you that, as of this writing, the only device I have with this update is the Verizon-branded Motorola Razr Maxx HD. My Verizon-branded Samsung Galaxy S III is still stuck at Android 4.0.4 (although Android is currently at 4.2). It's rumored that more devices should start rolling out the 4.1 update soon.

If your device does enjoy the latest and greatest OS, go ahead and tap that Google Search bar, and you'll be greeted by the "Get Google Now!" screen (Figure A). At this point, you can choose to enable Google Now or dismiss the feature for later. You can also tap "Learn more" to find out what Google Now offers. Figure A

Google Now on the Verizon-branded Motorola Razr Maxx HD.
Tap the "Yes, I'm in" button, and you'll immediately be taken to the Google Now screen (Figure B). From here, you should automatically see a weather card. Figure B

Tap "Show sample cards" to see a selection of what Google Now offers.
Once you've enabled Google Now, you can access the cards by swiping up on the home screen. What they don't tell you in the documentation is that the swipe must begin from the home button at the bottom center of the screen (Figure C). If you tap the Google button, the Google Chrome browser will open. Figure C

I'm guessing future releases of Android will offer more options from a home button long-press.
Once Google Now has had time to populate your cards, you'll find cards associated with your location, any up-coming events, and more (Figure D). Figure D

Location-aware cards.

You can dismiss a card by swiping the card to the right.

Settings

If you want, you can get into the settings for Google Now by opening Google Now, scrolling to the bottom, tapping the menu button, tapping Setting, and selecting Google Now. From the Settings screen (Figure E), you can refine the cards for each of the Google Now cards. You can also enable cards based on Gmail and set notification sounds. Figure E

Show cards based on Gmail is disabled by default.

If you enable cards based on Gmail, you can enable/disable the following:

  • Packages: When an order confirmation arrives
  • Flights: When a flight confirmation arrives
  • Hotels: When a hotel confirmation arrives
  • Restaurants: When a reservation confirmation arrives
  • Event booking: When a ticket confirmation arrives
  • Barcodes: For barcodes received

To enable/disable one of the above cards, do the following:

  1. Open Google Now
  2. Tap the menu button
  3. Tap Settings | Google Now
  4. Scroll down to the Gmail card you want to enable/disable and tap it
  5. Slide the on/off switch to the desired setting (Figure F)
Figure F

The on/off switch is in the upper right corner.

Though Google Now is a new feature, once it really starts rolling out wide-scale, I expect it will become a feature that many users will quickly depend on. If you're lucky enough to enjoy Jelly Bean right now, enable Google Now and see if you don't fall in love with the immediate, user-centric flow of information.

About Jack Wallen

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 jackwallen.com.

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