Why Google Now is the Future

April 16, 2014

Google Now is the future of data. The company’s already catalogued the world and placed it in our hands. It's now giving us the information we want, when we want it. Google Now is so ubiquitous that we almost miss just how impactful the technology is—and how much it tells us about where our world is heading.

Google Now aims to give users the right information at the right time. It does this by pulling on threads of data, scattered in a messy web across our digital lives, and weaving them into a collage of relevant information. Google Now just needs to answer three questions: who, where, and when. Smartphones use their speedy wireless links and location data to leverage Now’s answers into something more useful.

Combining different datasets and delivering them in a timely fashion is important, but that’s not really what sets Google Now apart. Rather, it’s that you are provided with what you need to know before you even know to ask for it. And then it constantly learns what will be most relevant to you, based on context and past behavior. It essentially reduces life’s friction.

We’ve been so amazed with the Internet that we forgot it could work so much better. Let’s say you want to go out to eat. You go to Yelp and find the best restaurant, reserve a spot on OpenTable, check the weather on Weather.com, and get turn-by-turn directions with Google Maps. But why separate those into discrete actions? Our brains don’t function that way—we’re connecting them already in pursuit of one goal: eating dinner out. And why should we wait for our questions to be answered? There’s no reason why technology can’t run at the speed of thought.

When you dig into the product, you realize a few key facts:

    • Google Calendar is the secret ingredient for extracting meaning from all the data flowing through your phone. It usually has the answers to the who and the when of your day.
    • Google Now wouldn’t function without being able to layer public data on top of user’s own data.
    • Now is less about giving you information as knowing what information to refine and cull. Timing and ubiquity give the system an idea for what’s relevant.
    • After adding in semantic analysis and user relevance into Google’s offerings, predictive analytics was simply the next step.

 

Google Now is at the forefront of a move to combine mobile technology with predictive analytics, delivering information at the threshold of our perception—ubiquitous, personalized, and anticipatory. It’s not far-fetched to believe that other tech giants will move in similar directions. Why else would Facebook acquire Oculus Rift, a virtual-reality headset maker?

Not only is there much more to Google Now than meets the eye, it also holds lessons for us:

    • Getting consumer buy-in means providing information on how data are being used as well as clear incentives and benefits for the user to stay.
    • Make personal data less scary and more desirable—in this case with handy cards that grow more popular the more customized they become.
    • Give users choice over their data. Is the information not useful? Just dismiss it. Are you finding it too intrusive? Then just tweak the settings.
    • Google Now relies on low barriers to information sharing across the Internet. It would not function without grabbing data from third-parties, such as airlines. We must be wary when policymakers look to put up walls to sharing in the private sector.

 

What’s next for Now? It’s easy to imagine it slowly growing by simply looking to smooth out more of our personal routines. For instance, Google Now may soon help you remember where you parked—it seems likely to help you find a parking spot too. All it needs is more data, connected.

But what if Google Now releases an API—the code that helps Google’s platform integrate with other apps or websites? Google Maps enabled entire companies to form, from Redfin to Uber, and helped discover more uses for Maps than its creators could have imagined. One could foresee similar benefits coming from Now, while still keeping it more carefully housed within the Android universe.

Looking even farther out, Google Now should be seen as the future of how we engage with the datafied world around us—and a model for how we grow comfortable with it, because we couldn’t imagine living without it.

 

See also: