The Google Now killer feature almost no Android device can use

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.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

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:

Editorial standards