Yesterday Google issued an update of its search app for Android. Among the modest changes were expanded Google Now content and functionality.
For those devices running Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or higher, which is now about 13.6 percent of handsets, Google Now now includes movie ratings from Rotten Tomatoes and movie passes from Fandango. (Apple’s Siri recently added the ability to buy movie tickets through Fandango.)
For those in the market for a home, real-estate listings from Zillow will now appear. College sports scores will soon show up as well. Finally, users can add a Google Now widget to the Android home screen (mostly unnecessary) or lock screen (useful).
Google Now may be described as “persistent” or “predictive” search. In many instances, Google Now can be extremely useful (weather) and even surprising (i.e., when it tells you to leave for the airport at a certain time given the traffic). However, it also presents outdated or erroneous information on occasion. For example, Google Now often continues to show me information relevant to the city where I was a week ago. On balance, however, it’s quite useful and will only continue to improve.
Google Now serves as a kind of counterpoint to Siri, and increasingly, Apple’s Passbook functionality. By comparison, Apple has nothing like it.
However, given that it’s only available on a little under 14 percent of Android handsets, it’s not clear how much awareness of Google Now exists. There was, however, a commercial for Google Now during last weekend’s Grammy Awards show in the US.
To my knowledge, Google hasn’t released any usage data nor has any third-party data such as comScore. We don’t really know how frequently Google Now is used or whether it’s having any impact, positive or negative, on Google’s mobile search volumes.
One of the perhaps secondary functions of Google Now is keeping search front and center in the Android user experience. For example, I was looking at Montreal (Canada) hotels the other day. There’s now a dedicated Google Now card on my screen called “Hotels/Montreal.” It invites me to “continue researching” (read: searching).
There are no ads in Google Now, but I imagine that will change at some point the future. If so, I’m sure Google will be very careful about the experience. Yet, if I’m searching for a particular product, I could imagine a PLA appearing in Google Now “results.” The same might be true for the travel or apparel categories. There are circumstances where ads and offers could be welcome as part of Google Now.
Google Now also reflects what I believe are a number of big trends in search. Among them, the “personal assistant” concept, persistent search/discovery (search without searching) based on context and personal history, and the presentation of more structured data as a substitute for a selection of links to third-party content.