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Hands on: Google Now is less of a concierge, more of a valet

Dan Moren | April 30, 2013
A profound transition is taking place in our interactions with technology. If the last ten years were about getting all the information you need at your fingertips, the next ten are about making sure that you have the information that's useful to you right now. Google Now is the search giant's attempt to figure out what data you need, and deliver it when you need it--and it's now available to iPhone and iPad users.

That said, Google Now didn't perform perfectly in my admittedly perfunctory tests. Though the app claims it will pop up information on public transit times near bus stops and train stations, I couldn't get it to display any data when I walked to the bus stop at the top of my street. I hope to give the app a more thorough workout on an upcoming vacation abroad.

There's a fair degree of customization available in Google Now, too. While you can disable the feature as a whole, it's also possible to select certain parts of particular features: For example, as someone who works at home, I can make sure that the commute sections don't pop up. (That's particularly useful, since my "work" is technically across the country from my home, which makes for a heck of a trip.) In certain places, you'll need to actively specify information, for example your favorite sports teams and any stocks you want to follow; in other places, it's unclear exactly how Google Now gets its information--though an option under Movies lets you have a card appear "For My Favorite Movies," there's nowhere to specify which films those might be.

Google has already made inroads into iOS, creating its own bubble of an ecosystem inside Apple's mobile OS, and Google Now only furthers that cause. While the app is limited in how it interacts with iOS itself, due to Apple's rules about apps running in the background, those who use other Google services extensively will likely find it an attractive proposition. It is a little surprising, however, that Google has not yet built in support for push notifications, to alert users when new or updated cards are available.

It's not hard to see Now as Google's answer to Siri: Both aim at creating an intelligent assistant that marshals relevant data and presents it to you. But where Siri is really about pulling information when requested, Google Now is about figuring out what information you need without your even having to ask. It's the difference between a knowledgable concierge and, say, a hyper-competent valet. Though there may be room for both, it's clear that this is the next battleground for personal technology.


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