Google Now may be one of Google’s most underrated new products of 2012, but I think it will turn out to be Google’s killer mobile product in the long run. It’s the one tool that brings together virtually everything Google knows about you and where you are and then turns all of this information into a useful dashboard on your phone. No other Google product (with the possible exception of some of its advertising services) draws up such a wealth of data about you.
Chances are, you are already familiar with what Google Now looks like from a user’s perspective, but here’s a quick primer for those who are not: Google Now is a standard feature of Android Jelly Bean and up. It’s an easily accessible screen that shows you information about your daily commute (because it learns where you go every day and makes an educated guess as to where ‘home’ and ‘work’ are for you), appointments, local weather, upcoming flight and hotel reservations (assuming you give it access to scan your Gmail account) and how your favorite team did last night (it learns that from your search behavior). It also notices when you are not at home and shows you how long it’ll take you to get back to your house, or, if you are travelling, presents you with a list of nearby attractions you may be interested in, the value of the local currency, the time back home and easy access to Google Translate.
Google added a bit of functionality to Now over the last few months, but this is really just the beginning. In the long run, I think, Google Now has the potential to become the central hub for almost everything you do on an Android device (and it looks like Google is bringing Now to the browser, too). Nowhere else does Google bring all of its knowledge about you and the world around you together as concisely as with Google Now. The idea here, Google said when it introduced Now, is to search on your behalf before you even know what you want and to show you relevant information about the world around you that would otherwise take quite a while to find and would usually mean using a number of different apps or searches to find.
All of that is pretty interesting – or very creepy, depending on how you look at it – but it only scratches the surface of Google’s vision of what mobile computing could look like in the coming years. With Project Glass, the company has laid this vision out at the beginning of the year and if all goes well, the first “Explorer” editions of Google Glass should find their way to third-party developers in early 2013.
So what’s the connection with Google Now? Project Glass is essentially Google Now plus augmented reality and wearable computing. Out of all of the Google Glass features you see in the video above, the only really important one that isn’t implemented in Google Now yet is location sharing with your friends. That’s obviously not a major technical problem anymore, but my feeling is Google is holding back from adding something like this to Now for the time being to avoid making users feel queasy about the privacy implications of the service.
Beyond Google Now, the company also recently launched projects like Field Trip and the conspiracy-themed augmented-reality game Ingress. Both of these projects came out of the company’s Niantic Labs and would, of course, work great on Google Glass, too.
Of course, the only feature of Glass we’ve really seen in action so far is its ability to take videos and photos, but the vision is clearly larger than this – and the key features of Google’s goggles will surely resemble Google Now in some form or another.