October 16, 2012

How To Use Google Now On Jelly Bean

Android’s Google Now, a feature only found on Jelly Bean, is often compared to Siri.  While it has a voice-search function just like Apple’s snarky personal assistant, Google Now has a far wider ranging set of features that deserve exploration given that one or more Nexus devices may be hitting the market soon.

Instant Search: Activating Google Now can happen from the lock screen. Unlock your device, touch the lock icon and then swipe up toward the word “Google.” This is rather convenient to have rapid access to Google search when you have your phone in your pocket or on a table. Just unlock, swipe up, and then type or speak.

Holding down the home button and then swiping up is how to launch Google Now when using your device. Doing so brings up a Google search bar, a voice icon and a series of cards. Either method is also very convenient when traveling, when one often needs to look up a venue or search on a map. Instead of unlocking the phone and finding a particular app, I find it faster to just use Google Now.

To search, just start typing. Google Now offers search suggestions, though they do not appear as quick as I would like, especially when on a mobile network. The mapping integration is great, however, as Google Now uses your location to optimize search results for nearby places. Typing in “Starbucks,” for example, would quickly generate a list and map of nearby coffeehouses.

Yet there are some advanced customization features to make the search component more useful. Google Now can also search your contacts, applications, songs, and much other data stored on your device. True to the more open nature of Android, it can search the content of third-party applications installed on your device. This is pretty cool for searching through Evernote notes or Foursquare check-ins.

If you would prefer to use your voice, just tap the microphone icon or say, “Google.” The speech recognition is rather good, though it does not offer the same kind of commands that Siri does. However, it does offer another way to perform a Google search if you are tired of typing.

Cards: Google Now’s cards are designed to give you useful information throughout your day. Google Now can offer cards about your commute to and from work, flight information, weather reports, currency rates, and sports scores. Doing so requires enabling search history, your location, and telling Google Maps where you live and work.

It is a lot to tell Google, but it is extremely useful. If you search for something on the desktop, just head to Google Now to retrieve those search results. At the end of the work day you will see a card telling you what the commute home looks like. Also, get reminders about upcoming calendar items. The weather card is also rather nice – it makes it very easy to quickly get the forecast instead of navigating to a separate weather app.

Google Now feels very much like a beta product in a lot of ways. For example, after staying a weekend in a bed-and-breakfast, directions there showed up as a card for about one week. Also, sometimes the score from a favorite team may reappear within Google Now or the Notification shade for long after the game’s conclusion.

There is also the concern about what all this personal information means if your phone is lost or stolen. Someone could easily find where you work, live, and get details on where you have been. Given this, Google needs to create a native remote wipe/lock feature, much like Find My iPhone. There are third-party solutions, like AVG Mobilation, but Google needs to take some ownership of this. Yes, all this data makes Android more useful and convenient. But it comes as a potentially high cost.

Google Now has only been around a few months. The low overall percentage of Android phones running Jelly Bean means it has not been able to have the widespread usage as other products. But despite some of the bumps, Google has built a personal service that has the potential to be a strong, proprietary feature with no equivalent on competing platforms. Google is wisely building more power and convenience into Android, which makes for a more powerful experience and less reliance on leaping in and out of apps.

Images credit: Derek Walter

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