The Future and Past Are Google Now

I like Google Now, and although it’s not a fixture in my daily device life, I it use pretty often, and it just keeps getting smarter and more useful.

Case in point, a couple weeks ago, I got my first Activity summary card, or at least, I noticed it for the first time.


Pretty interesting stuff I suppose. My biggest takeaways were: wow, if I could track older months this might be useful, the health tracking market is getting very crowded, and holy crap, Google could pwn that entire, admittedly nascent, market if they want.

To that last point, I use so many Google services that they could offer me a truly valuable summary of my activity, including the reasons, e.g. because of the events in my calendar, I walked more, or because of my searches for walking directions, I walked more.

From what I’ve seen so far, most fitness trackers are marginally useful at best. However, just by tracking my month-over-month walking, Google could offer cards that give me a decent incentive to be more healthy, e.g. the Travel Time card that shows time to work or to make an appointment on time could easily recommend that I walk, or walk a longer route, to spur healthy choices.

Plus, that card could create a competitive incentive by comparing my miles walking month-over-month.

If nothing else, it’s a reminder that I should at least consider walking.

I read about an internet of things startup today, Greenbox, that is building a smarter sprinkler system. In classic pitch terms, they’re calling it Nest for the garden. Sounds like a good pitch, e.g. using weather data to shut off the system when it’s raining.

There’s no reason to think Google Now couldn’t use weather data to produce more useful cards; Now already shows you the weather conditions and forecasts for cities to which you’re traveling in the near future, based on itineraries in your Gmail account.

So, cards that alert you to severe weather conditions or even changes in weather, e.g. to let you know to pack a jacket if the weather is drastically different, would be welcome.

And if micro-weather ever becomes a thing, like Waze for weather, Google could just throw money around to buy whatever startup seems right, just like they did with Waze. Incidentally, I’ve used the combination of Waze and Maps several time to avoid traffic jams.

There are lots of examples rattling around in my head, and I don’t even have all the Now cards enabled.

I stumbled across another new card over the week, the TV card. Although I ignored it at the time, I plan to test it out at some point if only to see the Info Cards.

All this is possible because Google has access to so much data and has so much computing power, and it certainly doesn’t hurt that they also have access to tons of mobile devices that we carry around all the time.

Google Now could easily lay claim to both the future and past, all provided in easy to consume cards. It’s too bad they’re just an advertising company.


Find the comments.




  1. Haha kickstarter fail.

    My ’80s vintage controller finally stripped its plastic gears earlier this year, so I went for a Rainbird with rain and temperature gauge and zip code based weather encoding.

    The rain gauge is hardwired, so of course that was an afternoon project between the very top of my tall ladder and reaching down off my balcony.

    It seems a bit retarded because of the bimodal nature of the weather in my area. We have these things called “Santa Ana Conditions” at random times of the alleged rainy season, where the climate suddenly changes from coastal Mediterranean to desert. It doesn’t even come close to the additional water needed.

    The big fail was the power outage during the summer. It reset the clock to January, just about croaked my lawn.

    Now, that’s a company that has been making this stuff for decades. I can’t believe a startup will get all that right. Of course, I think Nest is silly too, completely ignoring variance between rooms and multi-user (and even intra-user) subjective temperature.

    The microclimate where the intertubes looks for my weather is significantly different than where my house actually is. My neighborhood is literally called Warmlands, though it was named before the city nearby became a heat island. It’s wetter, too, being the start of the hills and higher in elevation. I often see 5 degree difference just driving from city to house, and sometimes low clouds becomes fog.

  2. @joel: Interesting experience. Micro-climates are a PITA aren’t they. I’ve lived in areas like that, but now, it’s usually raining all over, just a matter of how much 🙂

    My thoughts around micro-weather are a bit different; like Waze, someone would deploy apps that prompted people to report the weather, either by app or by text.

    Obviously a bit more difficult given how fast the weather can change, but I didn’t think Waze would succeed when it launched, but they did.

    These apps appeal to different people than you and I are.

    Re. Nest, the big deal is energy savings over the standard thermostat. They haven’t solved your problems, but the bar isn’t very high. Plus they keep innovating. I’m sure you have some choice thoughts on the Nest Protect, their recently announced smoke detector. Feel free to share those.

  3. All for data gathering, sharing (opt in model). The question for work is how all this fitness data can be used to solve enterprise problems and add value. Maybe worklife balance stuff, employee benefits, insurance, etc in HR.

    The question for outside work (is there such a thing?) is how to get data from one wearable app to another. Try Runkeeper to Garmin, etc. Actually, having the data shown in Google Glass as you run or walk would be cool, gamification potetnial huge in this space, too. Market’s crowded with these fitness apps. Don’t think people are getting any fitter though. Odd that.

    I have my Runkeeper app on iPhone/Samsumg feed directly to my Pebble. Useful, but prefer not to have to look down at my wrist. Plus, it’s on my phone that I carry as I run (cos my music is there too). In search of real value and answers still.

    Good post.

  4. @Ultan: There are HCM applications for fitness data, but to your point, it might not matter bc wearables don’t necessarily make people healthier.

    Just like IoT, wearables aren’t sharing data bc they don’t have an incentive to do so. Look at Nike; they’re still ignoring Android entirely. It’s too early for now, given the small demand for wearables. If they take off, I expect collaboration will ensue in order to ensure long-term viability for some of these startups.

  5. @Ultan: Good use cases. I love the immediacy of measuring/quantifying real life, e.g. how far to the top. That type of use seems trivial, but it creates delight for the user by making the world more accessible.

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