Yesterday Google released a new version of Google Search on Android that adds simple but far-reaching capability to Google Now that turns phones into true personal assistants. Google Now watches your personal environment and offers helpful information just when you need it most. It is the first step to giving me a smartphone that "gets" me.
I first wrote a while ago about my desire for a smartphone that learns what I do and offers help by watching what I do and how I do it. The phone is always with me and it "sees" how I go about my days so I want it to learn by watching me and offer me assistance when I need it most. That article from two years ago gives a basic overview of what I want my phone to do for me on a regular basis.
Google must have been paying attention as the latest update to Google Search has Google Now doing some of the very things I've been wanting from my phone. The update was applied to my phone automatically and it comes with a new widget for Google Now. I put the widget on my phone's home screen and instantly got the notification above.
That's not a big announcement so what makes it so exciting? While it's not a big deal that I had a package shipped, that notification was generated by Google Now from an email I hadn't seen. My phone was informing me that a product I ordered from Amazon had in fact been shipped. I didn't tell it to do that, it just did it to help me.
Tapping on the package notification card took me to the full Google Now screen for more information, presented above. This informed me what was shipped, who shipped it, and when it happened. This was all gathered from an email that Amazon sent me informing me of this fact which I could view by tapping the "View Email" link above. More importantly I can easily track the package by tapping the appropriate link.
I admit this example is not that big of a deal but it's what it represents that has me so excited. Another notification I got was indeed a big deal to me. Google Now presented a card informing me of my next appointment that afternoon and the event information. Most importantly, it told me that given the traffic conditions at that time, between where I was in that moment and where it knew my meeting was taking place, that I needed 45 minutes travel time to make it.
Read that last sentence again. Google Now, in the guise of my phone, determined the route I would be taking to my meeting, factored in the traffic conditions, and warned me in plenty of time when I'd better leave. This is exactly the kind of assistance I wished for two years ago.
"When I enter [the meeting] into my schedule on the phone it should warn me if the distance between the existing meeting before or after this one makes it unlikely I can make it."
Google not only did what I wanted but it accounted for unforeseen traffic conditions and factored that into the travel time. I didn't have to do a thing, didn't even know about the traffic at the time. The phone had my back so I wasn't late to my meeting. It even offered to navigate me to the meeting with a single tap.
Later in the afternoon I was listening to the band Fun. on the phone using the Pandora app. While grooving to some tunes I went to the Google Now screen to see what might be of interest. I opened the "View events nearby" card and lo and behold saw that Fun. was appearing in concert a few blocks away at 8 PM.
I'm not implying that this was a miracle. It was a coincidence that I happened to be listening to the group when Google Now informed me of their concert nearby. What is significant is without any effort on my part I found out about a concert by a group I like, a few blocks away. Had I been inclined I could have tapped the card in Google Now and bought tickets for the show!
These examples I've covered are not major on their own, but together (along with other information Google Now can offer) they are groudbreaking. This is just the beginning of what Google is going to implement and the implications are exciting. My phone is soon going to "get" me and tailor my user experience to fit my needs. Most importantly, I'm not going to do anything to make that happen, it just will.
Paul Thurrott, a tech writer I respect immensely, also sees how Google Now is a big deal. I think it's not only a threat to Windows Phone as Paul states so eloquently but it's a threat to all mobile platforms.
Google Now is going to continue to evolve and become even more useful over time. This will result in its becoming so ingrained in the lives of Android phone users that switching to another phone solution will become unthinkable. It's hard to leave a phone that "gets" you behind.