Google Now Comes Online (Well, Its Homepage Does)

Google Now, the smart personal search assistant announced yesterday at Google I/O, has now come online. Well, the landing page for the service has come online, that is. The new site introduces the key aspects to Google Now, which arrives in Google’s next mobile operating system, Android 4.1 (aka Jelly Bean), including its ability to track flights, keep an eye on traffic and your calendar, check sports scores and weather, see suggested places nearby, and more.

The feature, accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the homescreen has already been referred to as a “Siri killer” by some Android fans because of its ability to not just assist you, but to proactively alert you to new information based on your needs. One example which Google showed off in its demo yesterday was a flight search, which would later pop up a card that appeared with flight alerts and delays as they occurred in real-time. In another example, Google learned what sports teams you liked based on your search history and could then alert you to upcoming games and scores. In another, you could see suggested places to eat or shop as you walked down the street.

However, the biggest piece to Google Now is that the information comes and finds you – not the other way around. This is a key difference between how Siri operates today and what Google is promising. Of course, you as the user are in control of the experience and can enable or disable which cards and alerts you would see. It’s opt-in, which goes a long way to dispel the potential “creepy” factor here. It’s not as if Skynet has just come online. (I think).

The idea for this type of search-without-the-search technology, if you will, has been in development for some time. In 2010, then CEO, now Chairman Eric Schmidt spoke of a “serendipity¬†engine” as the future of Google search. “We want to give you your time back,” Schmidt said at the time. Google Instant was the first step towards that goal, but Google Now takes a giant leap. At the IFA conference in Berlin, Schmidt described the experience that is today’s Google Now, talking about how phones could spout off random facts as you walked around town, or how they could inform you of the weather, understanding the natural language of human speech. He called this idea a new age of “augmented reality,” where computers work for us.

Unfortunately, for the time being, that new age will only be available to a precious few – those who buy or can upgrade their Android-based devices to Jelly Bean. But much of what Google Now offers could be bundled into an Android or even iOS (!) app using the platforms’ push notifications feature. Hopefully that is in the works, too.