Earlier in the year, Google introduced a new version of its Android mobile operating system. In the global market, it goes toe-to-toe with RIM’s BlackBerry platform and Apple’s iOS platform – the latter of which is used in the iPhone. One of the flagship features in Android 4.1, also called “Jelly Bean,” is Google Now. In a sense, it’s a direct competitor to Apple’s Siri, but it’s actually far, far more powerful in practice. For the most part, it has remained a relatively quiet feature that Google has yet to play up, but I’m here to explain exactly how this one feature could revolutionize how your phone tracks, manages, and helps you stay sane when you're traveling.
As a bit of background, Google Now is only available on phones and tablets with Android 4.1 or higher. That list of devices is pretty small at the moment, but most of the flagship phones from HTC and Samsung are on track to be updated – if they don’t already ship with it – in the coming months.
You won’t find Google Now in your library of apps. Much like Siri on the iPhone, it’s built right into the fabric of the phone, so it has tentacles in everything. Moreover, this enables Now to sift through your data for you, without you having to think about it first. It’s vitally important to use the phone’s native Gmail and Calendar applications, as these two areas are where Now mines most of its information. Here’s a brief look at how Now can revolutionize how you think about phones when it comes to travel:
- If you have a United Airlines flight confirmation in your e-mail, Now will automatically pull up a boarding pass and push it to your phone’s screen as it detects you arriving at the airport. (And more airlines will be supported soon!)
- So long as your next appointment(s) are loaded in Calendar, Now will automatically calculate the distance between that meeting and your current location. Moreover, it takes traffic into account, and will automatically alert you to leave early if it spots a wreck or traffic your route.
- Upon your morning alarm going off, Now will check the forecast and pop a weather card up to give you an idea of what to expect. And if a flight confirmation in your e-mail shows you sleeping in a different bed that evening, you’ll get the forecast for your destination.
- For any flight information tucked away in your e-mail or calendar, you’ll get automatically notified via a Google Now card if there’s a status change or a delay.
- If there’s a hotel confirmation in your e-mail account, Now will provide one-click navigation to it once you land at your location.
- If there’s a confirmation email or calendar appointment for a restaurant reservation, Now monitors the time and traffic in the background; it’ll automatically notify you when you need to leave, while also updating you on that traffic.
- Purchased tickets to an event or venue? Don’t bother doodling reminders, as Now will automatically do it based on the date of the ticket confirmation in your email or calendar.
- If you’re in a new place, just use your voice to ask about “local events” or “local attractions.” Now will determine your location and your time of arrival, and produce results accordingly.
- If you get close to a bus stop or subway station, Now will pop up a card with the incoming transportation options, where they’re headed, and how long it’ll take.
And that, believe it or not, is just scratching the surface. Google is actively adding more and more cards, and most of them tend to cater to travelers. The best part is just how automatic this all is. Yes, it’s a bit creepy that your phone could know so much about you, but in reality, it’s simply parsing words, dates, and confirmations in your e-mail and calendar applications. It does the research for you, and pops information onto your screen when it knows you’ll be needing it. As of now, there’s really no competing product with this level of intelligence. If you’re due for a phone upgrade soon and want Google Now, make sure you select one with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) or newer on-board.