Google Now reads minds. Do you know the way to Napa?
Google Now reads minds. Do you know the way to Napa?

Life with Jelly Bean and an unlocked Google Nexus smartphone is pretty sweet indeed. Google Now, in particular, impresses, if not for its current functionality, but for its potential.

I’ve been running around town, up and down across the San Francisco Bay Area, testing out what is turning out to be one handy mobile device.

Those that follow As the Android Turns here on Stark Insider, know that I agonized publicly here — embarrassingly, and for far too long — over which Android smartphone to upgrade to after life with OG Moto Droid (2009). The Razr was a close call, especially the Maxx edition with that mondo battery life. HTC did well with the One X, but I’ve never been fond of HTC Sense (or any skin for that matter), and I ultimately preferred the quality of Samsung and Motorola hardware. I actually pre-ordered the Galaxy S III on Verizon, but reneged. Why on earth did I want to commit for another two years with Big Red when they hadn’t rewarded my years of customer loyalty one iota (even deciding to slap me with a $30 “upgrade fee” with the privilege of paying $249 for the S III)? In the end I went direct to the Google Play Store and bought an unlocked HSPDA+ Nexus, got a sim card from T-Mobile, and was off to the races with no contract, and unlimited data, all for $30 per month. Now if Google unleashes a brilliant 4th gen Nexus in Q4, I can jump with no ETF worries.

One of the best features of Jelly Bean is Google Now. I’ve been using it regularly for a few weeks now.

I do appreciate the fluidity and speed Android 4.1, thanks to Google’s “Project Butter” but in the end I don’t find it much of a jump over Ice Cream Sandwich. Google Now, however, is a wonderful preview of things to come. By now you probably know you can access it by dragging up on the home button, or clicking in a traditional Google search box. Once you activate it, you’re presented with a series of cards with various bits of information ostensibly related to your life. That’s no big deal necessarily. What’s interesting is how Google seems to know my every move. It even anticipates where I might want to go.

When I first activated my Nexus, I pulled up Google Now, then activated the voice recognition feature by saying “Google.” The phone began listening. So I asked:

“What’s the score in the San Francisco Giants game?”


A voice told me that the Giants had won their game against the Cardinals, 8-2.

Again, no big deal. Over time, however, whenever the Giants played a game, Google had a card live updating with information about the game. It would also insert a notification for me automatically so I’d have easy access to the game’s progression.

After a while, though, I learned that Google was watching my every move. This will no doubt propel privacy proponents into a pronounced tizzy.

For example, I looked up directions to a theater, the Berkeley Repertory Theatre on my MacBook at some point during the day. Later my Nexus was informing that if I wanted to make it there in time for an 8pm opening, I had to leave now (it was 7pm) to make it on time (traffic had added a 12 minute delay it informed me).

Also, since Google knows my location, I’m constantly receiving weather forecasts for San Francisco and San Jose.

While implicit voice recognition — asking your iPhone (Siri) or your Android with Jelly Bean (Google Now) a specific question — is by now mainstream (even perhaps passe among the technorati), it’s this passive, behind-the-scenes/anticipatory style prediction that has me most energized about what the future holds.

I’m willing to give up a bit of privacy to Google (not the important stuff of course… like the fact that I like my espresso without sugar, or that a glass of Paul Hobbs Russian River Valley Pinot makes my evening all well and good) in order to improve the quality of information its services can assimilate for me. If that means I’m one step ahead then that’s a huge benefit.

Right “now”, we’re talking basics: weather, traffic, stocks,  sports scores. Extrapolate ever so slightly and you can envision a smartphone that truly is smart; one that learns your daily, weekly and monthly living routines, and can respond intelligently. Imagine a phone that combines the best of location-based services, search algorithms, and artificial intelligence to create a device that comes awfully close to the ultimate sidekick.

Google Now is not quite there yet. The potential, though, is as clear as day. I admit it’s a somewhat frightening proposition – Google is watching what I do on its search page, on Maps, with my contacts, in my email, and who knows where else. I told my wife about it and she thought the idea atrocious, yet compelling. I think a lot of us feel that way – we want to embrace this new world of technology, social networking and all of the incredible wealth of information at our fingertips, yet we don’t want to sell our souls in the process.

Oh, about those San Francisco 49ers.

Google Now must have a thing for baseball.

It absolutely loves updating me on the Giants games. 9-6W! 9-3W!

But try this one:


“What is the score in the San Francisco 49ers game?”

And you won’t get verbal love. Instead you’ll get passed to the search results which will take you to the web browser, and not a nicely formatted Google Card.

If it treats our beloved Niners like this, I can only imagine what it would think of the “Ottawa Rough Riders.”