Google Now

Google Now, well, not quite

Google fans like me will know that almost a year ago their new ‘intelligent personal assistant’ was launched, called ‘Google Now’.  It was pushed in the usual way by Google, who tried to hide as much real information as possible about the product while passing it by well-known IT reviewers who duly waxed lyrical over it with the aim of creating customer expectation and desire.  Of course, the inherent problem with this clever communication tactic is that it can backfire if the application isn’t really up to scratch, as all that latent desire can easily turn into frustration.

Google Now was pushed to all Android phone users with the latest Jelly Bean software update.  For those not in the know this is the most current version of the Android operating system.  Apparently, there are almost a billion Android devices in the world and about a third are running Jelly Bean, so we are talking hefty numbers here.  I shunned Apple partly as I can’t stand the smugness of most of its users and the cliquey perception that this company is trying to create through its overpriced products, so Google Now was duly pushed to my Android phone with its latest software update.

Naturally, I was looking forward to any ‘productivity tool’ that might have made my complicated life just a tiny bit easier.  Naturally too, I didn’t expect wonders, but just a modest degree of usefulness.  Instead, it turned out to be one of the most useless applications I probably ever opened on my smartphone (though perhaps not as useless as ChatON, but that’s another story…).

According to the sales pitch, Google Now should have been able to identify various strands of personal data such as calendar appointments, trips etc, to help me manage my daily activities by providing pertinent suggestions.  This strategy is in keeping with Google’s desire to push information to you, rather than you pulling it from the web, literally learning from you.  At least that’s the theory.  The practice, however, was a lot more disappointing as all I could ever see was two information cards, one for the local weather (duplicated on the home screen anyway, so of limited usefulness) and the other being my daily commute. That was it.  Appointments were not displayed, as Google Now can’t yet cope with multiple calendars (clearly it is the people in work, with multiple calendars, who would benefit most from an App like this?).

A quick look around some of the online forums revealed that I am not at all unique in my poor experience of this App, the usefulness of which appears to be highly limited, as well as influenced by the country in which you are based.  It’s more like some kind of prototype tool than a fully thought out App.

Despite some of its bad publicity you can barely think of a modern world without Google.  You ‘Google’ things and expect to find answers, you don’t ‘Apple’ them, and this alone demonstrates how much this company has influenced our lifestyle already.  But they are far from perfect, as some of the dodgy tax dealings also revealed, and they are not infallible, as the Google Now flop demonstrates.

But perhaps we should rejoice that not even a leviathan like Google can yet make a really ‘intelligent personal assistant’ – a testament that, for a little longer at least, machines haven’t quite caught up with our own intelligence.


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