In a world where we're distracted by some 30,000+ brand messages per day, effortlessness in the user experience is becoming a highly desirable quality. Crafty Google, in realization of this, has been working overtime on the most effortless experience possible.
Released as a standalone app for Android and as an integrated update to the Google App for iOS, Google Now assesses the behavior of a user logged into his or her Google account, and, over time, develops an understanding of what that user wants and needs.
As engagement with the app progresses, customized content begins to filter into the UI in the form of categorical “cards” – weather alerts, breaking news, calendar reminders and so forth – all compiled based on past behavior, current context, and ongoing interaction.
The more you search and use other Google tools like Gmail and Google Calendar, the more Google learns until your need to actually expend any effort whatsoever – talking, tapping, or otherwise – dissipates altogether:
Wondering what the weather will be like today? Just open Now and the weather card will automatically display the forecast for your current location.
Bad at remembering special occasions? Now will pop up reminder cards from your Google Calendar for birthdays.
Running late on your commute home? Now will automatically create a card with info on the next train or bus to your destination.
Essentially, Google Now takes the search out of search.
Google Now Cards
The app launched with 15 preset categories including such essentials as Gmail, Places, sports, travel, and news, but the initial iteration was just the beginning.
At the recent Google I/O conference, several new categories were announced, including music, video games, books, TV episodes, public transportation, and research cards – a custom category based on specific niche topics you've shown interest in by virtue of search or other behaviors. It's everything you would have searched for, served up proactively before you even think to search for it.
Though the tools for actually performing a search are pretty impressive as well. As of last count, there are 60+ known commands, which, when typed or spoken will generate results cards.
For example, ask for a stock quote, the definition of a word, the square root of pi, who directed "Gone with the Wind" – and you'll get results served up neatly in card format. As an added bonus, Android users enjoy additional features that integrate deeply into other applications, enabling them to use commands to verbally compose an email or text message, make a note, and set a reminder or alarm.
A Glimpse of the Future of Predictive Search
Call it what you like – predictive, unified, aggregated – Google Now is a glimpse at the seamlessly personalized, contextually complex, nascent future of search.
Picture a business traveler in a foreign city for work with Google Now installed on her smartphone – or, even more likely, her Google Glasses.
The viewfinder of her glasses with built-in Now functionality will guide her seamlessly throughout her day in a unfamiliar locale, presenting visual maps and directions to her calendared meetings, flashing safety alerts, translating price tags into more familiar currency and presenting her with real-time tips on local business etiquette – all without her having to do more than blink.
She'll be able to text, email, and post to Google+ simply by speaking and gazing at her surroundings as she goes about her day, more efficiently than if she had a real human assistant in tow.
This is a blue skies vision of what's likely to come but it's fair to say that Now is truly the first virtual personal assistant worthy of the title.
Still, There are the Requisite Drawbacks
As with Siri, the voice activated functions have a way to go in terms of usability, though this is bound to improve with time. And, in order for a user to truly enjoy the full benefits, one needs to be using Gmail and Google Calendar not to mention an Android device (it is a Google service, after all)
Like all things Google, advertising based on your data is inevitable. Google has already announced that brands will be able to insert markup into their email campaigns that will integrate seamlessly with Now, triggering special content cards and alerts when a user receives an email to their Gmail address.
It's already possible for airline boarding passes to be automatically added to the Now interface from a Gmail message (an improvement on the Passbook model that requires proactive user input) and it's likely that offers and incentives won't be too far behind.
As Now catches on, it's very possible that we'll see more users migrating to Gmail and other Google tools in an effort to get the best possible Now experience.
Brands Will Make the Most of Google Now
It's also very likely that we'll see more and more brands asking their search agencies to develop a Now strategy that aligns with their SEM and SEO planning. With Google dominating mobile search and free Google tools like Gmail continuing to increase in popularity, it's a given that Now will become status quo for users and consequently, for marketers as well.
Of course, it's too early in the game to know what the rules for optimization, both natural and paid will be. At present, a limited number of partner brands have been included in the beta, allowing them to tag their email content with elements that will be flagged by Now and allow for translation to cards.
But there's little doubt that tools for brands will be rolling out in short order. The inherent effortless of it – what we referred to earlier as “taking the search out of search” is really what will cinch uptake for end users and brands alike. The congestion of data in our always-on, real-time world is making us crave simplicity – the more wired we get, the lazier we become.