For more than a decade, online search has long relied on the same paradigm: a blank search box, and a user's query. But with the massive amount of data we're now providing to search engines on PCs and mobile devices--everything from location to calendar to browsing history--companies ranging from Foursquare to Bing to Airbnb are not just personalizing our results, but automating the process.
Today, at its Google I/O developer conference, Google unveiled its latest innovation in the search space: Google Now. Rather than having to manually enter a question, Android users will soon have the option to see widget-like suggested results without even having to type in the search box. "You used to have to enter a search query or type in a street address, but that changes with Google Now," said Hugo Barra, director of product management for Android. "Google gets you just the right amount of information at just the right of time, all automatically."
The information from Google Now is displayed on what Barra referred to as "cards," tile-sized amounts of information (seen above) that you might find similar to the cards seen in Palm's WebOS software--think the default weather app on your iPhone. Google Now learns from your location, search, and calendar history to deliver suggested results on everything from nearby restaurants to upcoming flights. For example, Google Now is smart enough to learn your daily commute; so, if you typically leave for work at 9:00 a.m. in the morning and return at 5:00 p.m., to and from the same address, Google Now will automatically suggest bus times and subway schedules to that location at those times.
What's more, if you typically eat lunch or go to the gym at the same time, Google Now is supposedly personalized enough to predict whether such trips will fit into your schedule. Have a flight later that day? Google Now isn't likely to suggest hitting up a restaurant when you only have an hour to get to the airport; rather, it'll suggest travel time--taking into account traffic--and directions to the gate, all without having to search.
Of course, all this depends on users adapting to a world dominated by Google. Because in order for this system to work, it'll need to be nourished by three things: data, data, and more of your personal data. That means, you'll not only need to allow Google Now to mine your Google Calendar, but sift through your search results, your browsing history, your check-ins, your transit routine, and your location. Of course, many users already supply Google with this data (either happily or unknowingly), but given Google's woes in the privacy area, it'll likely become a concern of users going forward.
After Barra's presentation, a director of Google Now showed off a typical day in a Google Now world. Popping up the service on an Android device, Google Now automatically recognized that the director had a meeting at 10:30 a.m.; notified him when he should leave and that the trip should take exactly 16 minutes; and told him that there would be an upcoming San Francisco Giants game (because he often search for sports stats about the Giants, so Google figured it was his favorite team). Next, since "Google Now knows I'm not [in this location] that often," the service suggested nearby restaurants around lunch time, complete with map directions, Zagat reviews, and the option to reserve a time.
And finally, Google Now realized because he'd booked his airplane tickets on Google--and that the flight was delayed--that he'd have time to squeeze a quick workout at the gym he typically frequents (which was exactly 19 minutes away from the airport). "Your cards will get smarter and more accurate as you use them, and we'll be adding more cards over time," the Googler said.
Some might call that a creepy amount of shared data. Others might call it the future.