Getting more out of Google Now!

March 7, 2013
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It hasn’t even been a year since Google Now first arrived alongside Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, and already it has become indispensable. Well, for some of us anyway.

You may have tried out Google Now and looked around for a minute, only to exit back to the home screen, shaking your head and wondering why everyone was so excited about an app that would occasionally tell you the weather. Really, I wouldn’t blame you, but I will say that you can’t get a good feel for using Google Now in a few minutes, or even an hour.

The key word that differentiates Google Now from other “personal assistant” apps is context. Google Now isn’t going to tell you everything all the time forever, it’s only going to show you what you need, when you need it. Oh, look at that, I’ve accidentally gone and repeated a catchphrase.

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Getting Set Up

I’m going to assume that you at least know the very basics of Google Now before continuing. If you don’t know, for example, how to enable Google Now or how to launch it, our own Derek Ross posted a great article last year on getting started with Google Now, so I’ll just point you there instead of regurgitating that whole article here.

One thing I do want to point out before we move on is this: the more you put into Google Now, the more you get out of it. Personally, I give Google Now access to everything on my phone, privacy be damned. You may not feel comfortable doing this, and that’s fine, but know that the less info you feed into Google Now, the less it’s going to offer.

Cards

You’re probably aware of Google Now’s concept of cards already, but if not, this is where the app displays both information you have explicitly asked for and information it thinks can be handy. Basic cards like weather, any upcoming appointments and nearby events might show up here by default, depending on what you’re doing. If you haven’t used Google Now much, this will look pretty bare, but once you start finding your way around, these cards will make up the hub of your Google Now activity.

Unlike the normal behavior you might expect from an app, you don’t just go through and pick what you want to show up here. Instead, it will rely mostly on how you use Google Now, and a great example is the Sports card. While it is possible to enter in teams you like through the sample card’s settings menu, simply searching for a team often enough will cause their activity like wins / losses, scheduled games and other information to show up. If, somehow, you end up seeing a team you don’t care about here, it’s easy to remove them through the card settings.

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This context-sensitive behavior is the crux of Google Now’s cards. For example, if you travel to another country, the Translation card with begin to appear, as will the Currency card, but these won’t even be an option while you’re at home. If you walk or bike often, Google Now will start to show you an Activity card, informing you how many miles you’ve logged. On the other hand, if you only travel by car or public transportation, you might not even be aware this card exists.

The more you use Google Now, the more relevant information these cards will display, so even if this seems odd at first, try using it even when you don’t have to. If you just sit around and wait for everything to arrive, you’ll probably be waiting a while.

Voice Commands

If cards are Google Now’s passive form of getting you information, then voice commands would be the more active form of providing you with said information. Before we move on, it’s important to note that it’s almost impossible to talk about this aspect of Google Now without talking about Google Search and Voice Actions, because they are so tightly integrated, so bear with me if things get a little off track.

It’s possible that the commands will start off almost insultingly simple: “what time is it?” or “do I need a jacket?” It isn’t long, though, before you find yourself asking “what is the weather in New York on Wednesday like?” or “how long is The Empire Strikes Back?” It doesn’t necessarily matter that other apps can handle this functionality, because Google Now does all the other things it does too.

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Where it gets really good is if you’re giving Google Now access to both your location and schedule. Have a meeting scheduled tomorrow? Google Now will tell you when to leave to get there on time, and it’s taking traffic into account. The few times I was able to test this, I was surprised at how accurate its predictions were. Once, it was literally a minute off, and I was slightly disappointed. Just slightly.

Voice Commands are also a great way to start using Google Now more. Instead of opening up Chrome, just launch Google Now and ask it to search for whatever you want to know. After a while. you’ll find yourself using Google Now more and more, and that’s when it gets really useful.

The Future

Google Now is very young right now, so it’s very likely that what we already have is only a sign of things to come. Here’s an example: if you’re using Google Now right… um, presently, try to ask it to turn off Wi-Fi. It won’t work, but it won’t just silently fail and send you to a Google search either. So we know that Google is working on device control in Now.

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The real question is: what else are they working on? Here is one thing I would personally like to see: better scheduling / alarm functionality. I want to be able to say “remind me about my doctor’s appointment on Thursday at 1pm” and just have it work. I also want to be able to make entries on my Google Calendar. I could see that being difficult, but it can’t be that much more difficult than sending email using Google Now, which I can do right this second.

Do you use Google Now? Have any tips and tricks to share? What would you like to see added to Google Now in the future? Let us know in the comments downstairs.

Comments

  • Skripka

    I turned the shit off.

    Causes constant partial wakelocks (even overnight when my device is stationary) due to Google needing to spy on what LAN I’m connected to…and if Google Now can’t get my LAN it cripples Google Now. I’m sorry but for Google Now to keep up with my GoogleCalendar or to give me my local weather etc it doesn’t need to spy on what LAN I’m connected to.

    The rogue partial wakelocks eating the battery make creepy spyware a battery waste.

  • Jason Groves

    it can set google calender events. Just tried it with “set calender, March 31st, event name.” For some reason the time defaulted to 9:00 a.m. but still pretty effective.

    • David Kinder

      I’ve noticed it sets the time for your current time usually when making a calendar event. But its pretty easy to change. Also sometimes if I say the time it will set it for a specific time, but this fails a lot. My only complaint is if I say set a timer for 25 minutes I would like a timer set and not a new alarm set for 25 minutes from now. Its a small complaint but since I set timers while cooking those alarms really tend to build up and it would be nice to go into the timer and see how much time is left for each one I set.

      • Julian Sobers

        If you add the time of day into your calendar entry it will schedule it for that time. For example, “schedule a meeting with Tom Jones tomorrow at 4 p.m.”

  • Widowmaker

    I found this bit out yesterday. If you log into google on your computer and search something on google maps, navigation information automatically pops up in notifications on your android phone.

    • mouseymice

      I printed out a hard copy of a map and when I picked up my Android device it was already ready. :)

  • http://twitter.com/KrRay03 Kaushik Ray

    this article feels old guys…there was nothing new here….its all the way same….

    • Bill

      They are trying to find other articles and things to write about until the Samsung Galaxy S4 comes out haha.

  • Brandon

    Google Now has learned my commute and times I leave, but I don’t want it to constantly send notifications after I clear the cards. Or even sports scores that I see and flip the card away thinking it would be removed, but it just comes up again the next day. Is there a way that I can swipe a card away and have it gone for good? Even my notifications pull down menu keeps showing that I have cards that I’ve seen but don’t want anymore. On my GS3, the notification LED display on the phone itself goes crazy because of this

    • Jarrod Davis

      Open up the Google Search app and tab the menu button at the bottom. Go to Settings > Google Now > whatever card(s) you want to disable, then tap the on/off switch to off.

  • Dave B

    If you include the claim that Google Voice Command or voice search actually works, then the rest of this review really doesn’t help me.

  • Ced

    I use it to send text messages when I’m driving

    • DetroitTech

      You could do that since gingerbread. Maybe even earlier?

      • http://www.facebook.com/udara.chintake Udara Chintake

        2.3

  • DetroitTech

    Look up an app “REMBR” in Play. It’s sweet. Dictate straight to your Google Calendar with reminders. I use it all the time. Why can’t Google do this?

  • rc

    i’m trying to edit cards on my nexus 4 and can’t seem to figure out how- currently it just shows the weather and commute info. when i go to the menu and try to access the settings, the screen does not look like what is pictured above (with all the diff card options)- is anyone else having this issue?