The Google Now killer feature almost no Android device can use

The Google Now killer feature almost no Android device can use

Summary: Google Now has just hit iOS, but it's been on Android for a while. The more you use it, the more useful it gets, as it figures out what you need. Unfortunately, one killer feature is not available to the majority of Android users.


The arrival of Google Now on iOS made a big splash, and justifiably so. The service has been available on Android for a while, and users can vouch for its usefulness. The more you use Google Now, the more useful it becomes, as it figures out what you need and when.

Google Now iPad
Google Now on iPad. (Image: Screenshot by James Kendrick/ZDNet)

The iOS version is pretty nice, but it's missing one big feature that Android delivers. The home screen Google Now widget on Android is an outstanding way to have pertinent information available most of the time. Of course, iOS has no widgets, so you have to run the Google Search app and tap the Google Now tab at the bottom of the screen to get to the desired information.

Google Now Note 2
Google Now on Android. (Image: Screenshot by James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Everything is not rosy on the Android side, however. Google Now also has a widget that can be placed on the phone or tablet lock screen. That's the screen you get when you wake up the phone. Having Google Now on the lock screen would be fantastic, and it is, according to those I've spoken to who use it.

Unfortunately, that's not very many people. To use the Google Now widget on the lock screen, Android 4.1+ is required. At this time, not very many phones or tablets run the very latest versions of Android and cannot use Google Now on the lock screen. The latest figures from Google show that 75 percent of Android devices are running versions prior to 4.1.

The just-released Galaxy S4 can use Google Now on the lock screen, but apparently, my Galaxy Note 2 cannot. I can't find it to put it on my lock screen. Samsung has stated that a Note 2 update to Android 4.2 should happen in the May — June timeframe, but that seems a long time away for those of us waiting for it. Maybe that will activate the feature on my Sprint Note 2. Most customers who own other devices won't be that lucky.

Google Now is a killer app from the Android maker, and having it available on the lock screen provides useful information without having to log into the device. At least, it would if more than a few people could use it this way.

Having used Google Now for months, I can tell you how great it is. It presents me just the information I need, when I need it, and tailored to my current location. 

The widget is wonderful sitting on the Android home screen, offering that information all the time. The lock screen would be just as useful as the widget, perhaps more so, if only most of us Android users could do that.

While those of us with rather late model devices might eventually get Android 4.1+ to use this feature, many more will not. It's the same old update situation that has plagued Android from the beginning. Sure, users can hack their devices to get a custom ROM with the latest Android, but that's not an acceptable way to get Google's own best apps and services.

See also:

Topics: Mobility, Android, Google, Samsung

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Enough time has past for an eight-fold increase in capability

    Mobile devices are now capable of running Android 4.3 all day. No way should Google should encourage cripples to remain handicapped. Upgrading to hardware capable of running Android 4.0 is a necessary step.
    • Android

      The latest version of Android is 4.2.2 Jelly Bean,

      Not all devices are capable of running the latest and greatest, some people are still rocking the OG Droid and are perfectly happy with what they have there.
      Doug Green
      • Morons

        Some hardware has chocolate in it so it can run different apps than hardware which doesn't have chocolate in it. Both you guys are idiots. The only piece of hardware which an OS needs is RAM. Morons.
        Tim Jordan
        • HTC G1

          The HTC G1 was not able to be upgraded because it lacked RAM
          Tim Jordan
        • Wow

          Put the pipe down.
  • Google Now on lockscreen

    Well it can be added actually via widgetlocker with anyone can install. Running now on my s3 with Android 4.1.2. What >I< love about google now (and this is when I fell in love with it) is when making plane reservations. let's say you make a reservation for 3 weeks from now (via email, web, whatever). You get a receipt in your email/inbox. You forget about it. The day of your flight you suddenly get flight info time/arrival gate departure info, and then another card about traffic to airport, etc. And then again on the day of return. Wickedly useful instead of digging back into your email to find that receipt.
  • Hyperbole much?

    "almost no Android device can use" really?

    such clickbait
    beau parisi
    • 75 percent can't

      As per Google's latest figures.
      • So 25% = almost none?

      • 25% of 750 million

        I wish I had "almost no" money. I could use $187mm. What a joke.
      • It's open source so. . .

        I had 4.1 complete on my device which officially supports 2.3. There are plenty of updated ROMs for most phones.
      • AS per Google figures this Month

        The last update for those figures showed double digit gains for both 4.0 and 4.1. Not to long ago (months) Gingerbread was on most devices. If you are really worried about the user before 4.1 they probably need to buy new devices for several reason. Android grew up in the past year and to get the full experience you will need a new device, that is how technology works. If you want widget on lock screen buy a new device, you will probably need the improved process and more ram anyway.
        • True!

          My Motorola Razr only got Jelly Bean and Google Now about a month ago. They are pushing it to other phone models over the next two quarters, so more phones will get Google Now.
          Thomas Kolakowski
      • "75 percent can't - As per Google's latest figures."

        Which means that 25% can, and 25% isn't the same as "almost none."
  • no problem

    James, I don't consider this a problem that's 'plaguing' anyone. I bought a galaxy nexus then a nexus 4 then a nexus 7. I have never not had the latest. Anyone else who knows to consider this a problem would have bought nexus as well. Android's rapid progress is a 'feature'. If a person is clueless about OS updates, they why can't they just be happy with what they have.

    Also, think of how much IS actually updated in the form of gapps updates. Ill take the 'android situation' any day. Have we noticed that iOS sure still seems to be stagnating these days? When will there be a lockscreen widget for iOS, huh?
    • "When will there be a lockscreen widget for iOS, huh?"

      Good point. In fact, forget lockscreen widgets - when will there be widgets for iOS? If they aren't in iOS 7, expect a lot of Android users to be laughing it up even more than they are now.
  • I don't think that's the problem

    I believe that you need to be running Android 4.1 to be using Google Now (all of it). No?
    • Alas yes....

      You need at least 4.1 to run Google Now. It is deeply integrated into Android OS, so you just cannot add it as an app to an older version.
      Thomas Kolakowski
  • This is not a Google or Android problem.

    Google has given the updates in a timely fashion to all developers. This is not Google's fault nor is it a fault of the Android system. This is strictly a manufacturer/carrier failure. If you want the updates faster, i.e. as soon as they are available, then get a Nexus device. Read more about the faults of manufacturers and carriers here,
    Doug Green
    • Quite true....

      The issue is that each maker/carrier wants branding and this is what holds up updating. Its all about the customization these folks make before pushing it to devices.
      Thomas Kolakowski