Monday, July 21, 2014

Google Now comes into its own while on vacation.

I and my family have just returned from a multi week vacation around the USA during which Google Now proved invaluable time and time again:

1. It became an essential navigation tool whether travelling by car, by public transport or on foot. Its accurate prediction of bus and train times was particularly impressive and it generally offered a choice of routes.

2. It proved invaluable for its ability to locate nearby services:  "OK Google where is the nearest Post Office" etc.

3. It magically extracted details of flights, car hire and hotel reservations from my email and provided updates and useful reminders such as "You should leave at such and such a time to get to this flight".

4. It provided weather information about our current location as well as our home.

5. It provided up to date currency exchange rates

6. It provided us with tourist information about popular sites near our current location the clicking of which would provide further information including reviews and navigation details.

7. It also provided regular updates on topics that I was interested in such as the World Cup well as updates on some of the blogs I follow.

Without a doubt the most surprising thing about Google Now is that it does all this stuff without any specific instructions. It just seems to know what information is useful to you at any given time. This is either very impressive or very creepy I cannot quite decide which but I will admit the first few times Google popped up flight reminders it had read from my emails was spooky.

Before this holiday I had been using Google Now at home for several months but it never really became an essential part of my life. I don't really need directions to the places I go every day of the week and Now's helpful suggestions cannot compete with years of local knowledge. When travelling however all this stuff becomes invaluable.

I use Google Now on an Android device so I got the full experience but there is a pretty good app for the Iphone which gives you most of the benefits. It helps a lot if you also use gmail and google calendar.  The Iphone implementation is not as slick as a native app but I would be surprised if Apple isn't working on their own equivalent. Whether Apple has data processing cleverness to pull it remains to be seen.

One minor niggle is that you really need to use the local name for services in order to get the best search results. In America you need to search for a "drug store" instead of a "Chemist" for example. This type of thing crops up surprisingly often but we have watched enough Holywood movies to generally know the correct American phrase and we got a few chuckles out of it. I imagine this would be a bigger deal in a country that speaks a different language entirely so it would make sense for google to include some form of local translation option for search terms.

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