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[GUIDE] Google Now
Welcome to the Google Now Guide. Google is always updating, improving and adding features, and I'll do my best to keep this guide up to date as necessary. “Try” being the operative word there...
Google Now was introduced in June 2012 as an update to the previous Google Voice Search and Voice Actions that were available in Android. Since then it has been continually updated, with an iOS version and availability in desktop browsers as well.
So What Is It?
Google Now encompasses several technologies. Chief among these are voice actions and cards.
Voice Actions: These are spoken (or typed) commands that will result in Google giving you an answer or performing an action. This can range from asking a simple question ("Who is the President of the United States?") to more complicated actions, such as setting reminders or placing phone calls. I will go into more detail of these below.
Cards: These are items that will show up on your screen that provide information relevant to you. They can vary from weather to shipping notices to sports scores. Again, I will go into more detail below.
So it's Siri?
Well, yes and no. While voice actions existed in Android long before Siri, they were more rigid. Siri really introduced the concept of a more personable "personal assistant" which Google Now is obviously a response to. However, Siri is also very reactive, as in a user will need to initiate it to get a response. While the Voice Actions in Google Now are similar, a big part of Google Now is providing pro-active information via the cards. For example, a card or notice might pop up with a flight status based on you searching for a flight or receiving a flight confirmation email. Or a card showing tracking information because you received an email with tracking info in it. In other words, it provides information without you having to ask for it.
A good example that I use frequently is I was at work, and I had a meeting several miles away. A Google Now card was showing that I had an upcoming meeting and I had to leave at 8:40 to make my 9:00 meeting. However, at 8:30 an alert popped up that I needed to leave for my meeting early because there was heavy traffic between my current location and the location of my meeting. Sure enough, there was an accident on my way and traffic was heavy. If not for the Google Now alert, I would have been late for my meeting. My mind was blown **head explodes**
Examples such as this happen frequently (at least to me), and is really the power of Google Now (even if it's a bit creepy)
Another thing that separates Google Now from Siri is Google’s response to several types of research questions. As some examples, asking the two “What is the best computer?” will result in Google Now sending you to relevant search results while Siri will give you an answer of “a Mac” (because you know...it’s Apple). Similar to questions such as “What is the best Smartphone” (Google will give you links to research while Siri will just respond with “There’s other smartphones?”). Funny on Siri’s part, but not really helpful if you need to research a topic and can’t trust you’re not going to get back a sponsored or joke answer.
So How Do I Use It?
There are several ways to initiate Google Now (and there are even more than the below depending on your phone and how you may have customized your phone).
- Swipe up from the bottom of the screen
- Touch the Google Search widget
- Open the Google Search App
- On some devices (such as the Galaxy S3 and 4), press and hold the home button and choose Google
Ok, Let’s Get Started, Shall We?
I can’t hear you. I said, Let’s get started, shall we? I still can’t hear you…
The first thing we’ll discuss is voice actions. To initiate voice actions, you can do several things.
- Press the microphone button on the Google Search widget (or the Google Search bar)
- If you are looking at the Google Now screen, simply say “Google”
(note: there is a setting to turn this off)
Once it’s pressed, you’ll get a pulsing microphone, and you can just start talking. Google Now will recognize your words and when you are done speaking and give results
What can I say?
Well, the first thing you could do is try asking Google Now that! It will respond with some examples:
There are of course many other options.
Knowledge You can ask pretty much anything that you want to research or need an answer to and Google Now will quickly provide an answer. Let’s just take a look at one example to start with.
Ask Google Now “How Tall is the Eiffel Tower?" and it will respond with the answer quickly. As you can see, not only does it give you the answer, but also a map of the location (with options to call, directions or open the website) and also gives you links at the bottom to search on the web, view more images, get news, etc.), If you would scroll down, search results from Google would show as well. Also, touching the little down arrow underneath the height will yield even more information about the Eiffel Tower:
Some other examples of things to ask:
- How many pounds in a kilogram?
- What is the capital of Kenya?
- What is 54 x 92?
- What time is it in Tokyo?
- How many Canadian dollars in a euro?
- How long is Silence of the Lambs?
- When is Father’s Day?
- Where is area code 310?
- What does sarcasm mean?
The above are just some examples. The list is pretty much endless. Play around asking it stuff!
One fun thing to try is how Google Now can use context. For example, if you ask Google Now “Who is the President of the United States” it will give you the answer. But if you do a follow up question of “When was he born?” it will know you’re still talking about the President.
Other Types of Research Questions: Google Now can also provide results for tons of other types of questions and provide more specific results. Some of these can be based on your location, while still others can be based on time or other information. For example, asking “Will it snow?” will bring up the weather for your location.
- When will the sun rise?
- What is the weather (today/tomorrow/weekend or future date)?
- Do I need an umbrella (today/tomorrow/weekend or future date)?
- Will it snow?
- Will it rain tomorrow?
- Will it rain on Monday?
- What's a good (Italian/Chinese/Indian/American) restaurant near me?
- When does Starbucks close?
- Where’s the nearest Starbucks?
- How far is MovieTown from me?
- What’s the stock price for Google?
- How far is (location) from me?
- When is the next Pittsburgh Pirates game?
- How are the Pirates doing?
- When do the Pirates play next?
- Did the Pirates win their last game?
- Has (flight) landed? ex: Has United 450 landed?
- When will (flight) land?
- When will (flight) depart?
- Is (flight) on time?
Performing Actions: Google Now also offers the ability to perform a variety of actions. These can range from alarms to reminders to navigation to research.
examples: Navigation & Maps
- Navigate home (will take you to the place you set as your home location)
- Navigate to work
- Navigate to Starbucks
- Show me a map of Central Park
Reminders (time and location)
- Translate “Where are your restrooms?” to Spanish
- How do I say “I need a taxi” in French?
- Remind to take out the trash when I get home
- Remind me to get a shirt at Target (next time you are at Target, you will get the reminder)
- Remind me to call mom at 6:30
- Remind me to mail a letter on Thursday
- Remind me to go for a walk in an hour
- Note to self “You are awesome”
- Show me a video of how to grill the perfect steak
- Show me pictures of kittens
- Set alarm for 6:30 feed the neighbors’ cats
- Wake me up at 7:00
- Wake me up at 6:30 on Tuesday
- Wake me up in 2 hours
- Schedule haircut for September 3rd at 4:30
- Call Mom
- Call 610-555-1234
- Call Amy’s cell
- Call the Drake Hotel
- Text Amy Where are you?
- Send text to mom “be there in 30 minutes”
- Email Paul subject up for a visit message I’m coming to town in june
Tip: You can also use punctionation, such as “Email Paul subject up for a visit question mark”
- Listen to The Black Keys
- Listen to Stairway to Heaven
- Play music by Green Day
- What is this song? (will open a microphone and listen to the music to identify the song)
- Do a barrel roll
- What’s the loneliest number?
- What's the answer to life, the universe, and everything?
- Make me a sandwich
- How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Besides voice actions, the other main feature of Google Now is called cards. Cards are small snippets of information. Some examples of what may initiate cards are a game for your favorite team, stock prices, weather alerts and traffic alerts. Flight notices and boarding passes will show up the day you have a flight scheduled (or the day a flight you’ve searched for is scheduled).
So how does Google Now get it's information? Where do the cards come from? Well, good questions, grasshopper. Cards come from several places:
- Your web and search history (when logged into your Google Account)
- Your Gmail (such as receiving a reservation confirmation or shipping notice)
- Manual triggers (such as using Voice Actions to set a reminder)
It should also be noted that web history has to be enabled first, and you can manually remove items from web history if you do not want Google Now to use them (it will also not pick anything up from an incognito session)
You can set various things, such as your home and work locations, favorite sports teams and stocks through Google Now's settings (Menu -> Settings). You can also view and modify/delete any reminders you've set here
Bonus Tip: Touching the "i" icon in the upper right of a card will provide more information about that card (what it is, why it's showing, etc)
Bonus Tip #2: Cards can be dismissed by simply swiping them to the left or right
Examples are below. Because cards are being added all the time, this may not be an all-inclusive list.
- Activity Summary: Shows a summary of how far you’ve walked or biked over the last month
- Boarding Passes: Shows a boarding pass of a flight you have scheduled
- Next Appointment: Shows the time, location, traffic conditions, estimated gtravel time and a notification when you need to leave
- Weather: Shows weather for current location and work. If you’re traveling, it will show weather at your destination
- Traffic and Transit: Traffic conditions and alternate routes before you leave for work or home. If you have your transportation mode set to “Public Transit” it will also show traffic to your next likely destination
- Flights: Real time flight status and traffic info to the airport
- Hotels: directions and confirmation to your hotel when you arrive in a new city
- Restaurant reservations: Reminder and travel time to restaurants you have reservations for
- Events: Reminders about events you have purchased tickets for’
- Packages: Track shipments
- Birthdays: Notification about friends’ birthdays (based on Google+)
- Your Birthday
- Reminders based on time
- Reminders based on location
- Reminders based on events
- Saved Offers: Based on offers saved from Google Offers (google.com/offers)
- Zillow: Nearby real estate listings. Will also pull up information about the listing you are currently looking at if attending an open house
- Sports: Updated information about teams, scores and upcoming games. You can also purchase tickets
- Movies: Showtimes and ratings for what’s playing when you’re near a theater. Also get notifications when a movie you’re interested in arrives in theaters
- Fandango: If you buy tickets through Fandango, you’ll receive reminders when to leave for the theater as well as display your movie tickets when you arrive at the theater
- Concerts: Shows when you favorite artists have concerts at venues near you.
- Stocks: real-time information about stocks you track
- Public Alerts: Emergency information
- Developing and Breaking News
- Research Topics
- New Albums: Notifications about new albums you may be interested in
- New Books: Notifications about new books you may be interested in
- New Videogames: Notifications about new video games you may be interested in
- New TV episodes: Notifications about new TV episodes you may be interested in
- TV Cards: More infrormation about TV shows you are watching (if your TV is on the same wi-fi network you are)
- Public Transit: When you’re near a bus or subway station, be notificed of arrival times for the next bus or train
- Places: Suggestions for nearby places of interests (restaurants, bars, etc)
- Nearby Attractions: List of nearby attractions that are popular
- Nearby Events: List of current concerts or other popular events nearby
- Nearby Photo Spots: List of popular photo spots nearby
- Translation: Popular translation words for your current location
- Currency: Quickly check the local conversion rate when traveling
- Time at home: Shows when you’re in a different timezone and shows your current time at home
- Last Transit Home (if you might miss the last public transit)
Well, that's it folks
I hope you found this guide useful. I am continually suprised and somewhat amazed (and yes, sometimes even a bit paranoid) on the information Google Now presents to me, but I really feel it's the future of smartphones. Providing information without having to actively seek it out, but rather based on your interests, history and other information has been extremely enlightening and helpful (see my earlier note about it telling me to leave for a meeting early due to traffic between my location and the meeting). It's amazing times we live in.
One final note. I mentioned it before, but as it is right now, there is no way to manually add cards that show up. This has been a bit problematic to me in the past. As one example, I order frequently from Amazon and from the Play store. Strangely, my Amazon shipping notices show up, but my Play store shipping notices do not (even though they both go into my gmail). That's really been the only instance I've noticed where Google Now doesn't create a card for me, but still...would be nice to manually create a card from the Gmail. Alas, it's not to be...at least yet. But as I said, they're continually adding features, commands, and cards, so hopefully we'll see this soon.