Some Light Testing of Google Now

Now that I have a phone running Jelly Bean, I can test drive Google Now, which looks insanely cool and super creepy.

Google recently announced voice enhancements to its mobile search app that also exist within Google Now that position it to compete with Siri. Check our the detailed review at Ars if you’re interested in a comparison of the two digital assistants.

The first hurdle with Google Now is figuring out how to use it. I felt a bit like Derek and Hansel trying to figure out how to run Google Now. It’s part of Jelly Bean, but is it an app? How do I run it?

Luckily, Google is good at answering these types of questions. To launch Google Now, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen.

No affordances in the UI, just like Siri, so you’ll probably either proactively find out how to use this awesome feature they advertise, which is annoying, or you’ll find it entirely by accident and wonder how you did it, which leads to annoying gesture recreation.

Either way, bad user experience.

Anyway, I do like the mobile search card metaphor that Google has deployed, very clean and suitable for mobile in both portrait and landscape modes. Here’s what Google looks like:

Naturally, the more you allow Google Now to access, the better it gets, e.g. if you allow Google to track your search history, Google Now can infer your favorite sports teams and push game (or match) scores to you. The bummer is that you cannot directly tell Google Now what teams you wish to follow; this feature only works based on your search history.

As you can see from the sample cards, there are some sweet features in there, e.g. Translation, which will now incorporate the very cool, translation of text in images feature just announced. The mind boggles at the technology behind stuff like that.

So far, I haven’t got much from Google Now, and until I get Jelly Bean on my Nexus S 4G, that won’t change. Several of the features rely on location to show venues around you, guess your work location and offer traffic information based on your calendar and commuting habits.

As a telecommuter, none of these are very valuable, but as a traveler, they might be. Google has been bolstering its travel portfolio, and this week, they announced they are acquiring Frommer’s, the travel book publisher.

Add Frommer’s content to Zagat’s, and you have a pretty solid offering for location-based content.

When the Nexus S 4G gets Jelly Bean, I’ll get a better chance to field-test Google Now. I’m happy to wait, since I’m sure the feature set will evolve as Jelly Bean rolls out to more users.

So, have you checked out Google Now yet? Are you interested in digital assistants, or do you think these features go too far and invade your privacy?

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