Google Now and OK Google show the potential of mobile devices

by Jeff Hilimire on June 9, 2014


It’s been long hypothesized that our phones will ultimately become our personal assistants. And with the movie, Her, I suppose some think our phones could become more than just friends ;)

Apple’s Siri started our ability to actually begin talking to our phones. I was still using an iPhone when Siri came out and I mostly was using her it to voice dial while driving. Otherwise, I didn’t find much use in the service.

I’m now using an Android Nexus 5 – here’s why I prefer it over the iPhone – and it has two “assistant-like” services: Google Now and OK Google.

Google Now is really quite handy. On the Nexus 5, I simply swipe left on my home screen and I see the Google Now cards (example pictured above). The cards are location, time and contextually relevant based on a variety of factors. For instance, the cards on my phone right now (at 7:32am) are:

  • Calendar reminder for a 7:30 meeting
  • “19 minutes to home” card that includes a map view of my route to home and a link to start navigating. It knows that the next place I’m going, according to my calendar, will be my house.
  • A card showing the score from last night’s Spurs and Heat game. It knows I routinely search for these results and read articles on the Heat.
  • A review of Duet Game that appspy did. It assumes I’m interested in this because I recently blogged about Duet (and searched on Google for some links as research).
  • A card showing an update on the Nexus 8 release and the Google I/O conference coming up (again, things I search for consistently).
  • The temperature in Atlanta. 69 degrees.
  • Places nearby that I might be interested in or have visited before: Flying Biscuit, West Egg, etc.

Google Now helps me by proactively serving up information that might be relevant to me at any given time or place. It will start to learn your behavior and its quite remarkable some of the content it serves up. You can also easily tell it which information is not relevant and it will stop showing you that content.

OK Google is the Siri equivalent of voice search and commands for Android. It works by simply saying “OK Google” when you’re on your home screen and a voice search pops up. At that point you can ask it anything you like. In many cases it will verbally reply with the answer but when it can’t do that, it obviously opens up a Google search results page. For instance, I just said, “OK Google, how many grand slams has Nadal won?” and it immediately responded by saying, “Rafael Nadal has won 14 grand slams” and it opened up a picture of Nadal and pictures of Federer, Djokovic, and Pete Sampras telling me how many grand slams they have each won. Pretty cool.

What’s great about OK Google is that it keeps adding new functionality. For instance, last night I said, “OK Google, wake me up at 5:45 tomorrow morning”. And sure enough, it woke me up on time. And yesterday I needed to time something and I said, “OK Google, set a timer for 20 minutes.” You can also set reminders such as, “OK Google, the next time I’m here, remind me to order the nachos.”

And this just in, Google Now will actually wake you up for correct stops during public transportation!

With the continued progress that Google is making on these fronts, and I’m sure Siri does many of these things and is going to have big improvements with iOS 8, I’m excited to see how this space evolves over the next several years.

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