Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Google Now: Now on the iPhone and iPad

It’s been a plausible-sounding rumor for a while. And now it’s reality: Google Now, Google’s voice-controlled assistant, is available for Apple’s iOS. To be specific, it’s launching today as a new feature in the Google Search app for iPhone and iPad, giving users of Apple gadgets a feature which has been unique to Android phones until now.

(I was going to say that Now is “finally” arriving on iOS, but it actually didn’t take all that long — the feature debuted only 10 months ago, when Android 4.1 Jelly Bean was announced. It’s just that it’s so clever and useful that it quickly felt like a fundamental Android feature.)
[image] Google Now


If you were going to lump Google Now into a category of mobile apps, you’d categorize it with Apple’s own Siri. The emphasis of the two apps is quite different, though. Google Now, like Siri, lets you do stuff by talking to it. But its distinguishing characteristic are its cards — tidy little summaries which show up based on cues such as your location and past actions rather than waiting until you’ve explicitly asked for them to appear. They can tell you about the weather, local attractions, news and sports, travel stuff like flights and hotels and more. I don’t know if I’d call it the best version of Google, but it’s probably the one that most closely tells us where Google thinks it’ll be going over the next few years.

I haven’t used the new iOS Google Search yet. (The current version has vaguely Google Now-like aspects without actually being Google Now.) I’m curious about how close it can come to replicating the Android version of Now when it’s part of an app on an operating system that Google doesn’t control. It also won’t be able to do some things which Siri, with its direct integration into the operating system, can do, such as popping up with a press of the Home button and letting you set alarms.

But if Google Now retains a decent percentage of its appeal on Android, I could see plenty of folks who don’t use the current Google Search app all that often — like, for instance, me — spending much more time in it. It can’t be a Siri killer on iOS, but it might well be a nifty Siri alternative.

And a sizable chunk of Google Now seems to be arriving on iOS — 21 of the 29 cards that are available in the Android version. It doesn’t sound like some of the omitted ones, such as one for the Fandango movie-ticket service, are AWOL because of iOS limitations, so perhaps they’ll show up at some point.

Here’s Google’s own video introducing the new app…
More thoughts once I’ve had a chance to try it for myself.