Reading the tea leaves of Google Now

After spending but a few days with the new Android 4.1 feature, it's easy to see where things are headed.

Public transportation details is but one of Google Now's tricks. CNET

I've finally had a few days to decompress from Google I/O 2012 and wrap my head around all of last week's big announcements. And with a tablet, a streaming media device, Google Glass, and Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, there was plenty to go around.

While I certainly love the power and performance of the Nexus 7 tablet, it's Jelly Bean, and specifically Google Now , that blows my mind.

Don't get me wrong, I've seen a number of Siri-like apps for Android over the last year or so, many of which have their own selling points. Yet, all of them, Siri included, have the same drawback: users must request information or ask for details. In other words, we have to tell the apps what to do before they'll act. But with Google Now, we get information instantly in a clean, intuitive manner.

How it's different
I've used Google Now on the Nexus 7 and the Jelly Bean-equipped Galaxy Nexus only for a couple of days, but I already miss it on other devices. Rather than going the home screen after unlocking my device, I now jump right to Google Now to see traffic, weather, sports, and other details. Frankly, I just can't be bothered to ask my device whether the Cleveland Indians won last night. No, I expect it to tell me as soon as I switch it on. But all sarcasm aside, the early stuff in Google Now is fast, relevant, and precise.

For example, I was pleasantly surprised this morning when Google Now advised that it would take 17 minutes to get my son to karate today. Keep in mind that I had not programmed the device or told the app that I had an appointment. What's more, I've not had a chance to take the tablet to the studio yet. Instead, Google knew based on my location history and past check-ins that this might be a spot worth marking as "important to me." The same thing happened later in the day when it told me how long it would take for me to navigate to T.G.I. Fridays. Apparently, I like the Jack Daniel's sauce more than I thought.

Given that we tie so many things to our Google accounts, I can see all sorts of wonderful things unfolding in Google Now through future iterations . Imagine if you will a map of nearby Google Offers based on your history or preferences, without loading Google Maps.

Have some of your friends just checked into a nearby restaurant? Then it doesn't seem like a stretch that Google Now could tell me where my buddies are, especially if they're using Latitude or Google Places. The same could be said for a virtual get-together as Google Now could alert one to a Hangout or live broadcast of something meaningful.

Google Nexus 7 Josh Miller/CNET

Still some work to do
To be clear, Google Now is far from perfect and there's still plenty of work to do when compared to other Android apps. You still must manually launch apps, adjust system settings, and other tasks commonly handled by S Voice, Siri, and the growing host of clones . That said, users still can initiate reminders, set alarms, and compose emails. If you like your information without asking for it, Google Now is the clear winner. But if you like to ask your phone to do fun things, you'll need to look elsewhere, for now.

So even in these very early days, I've come to really appreciate Google Now. And looking around the Android blogosphere, I'm finding that other Google I/O attendees share my sentiment. I can't wait to see how Google will improve the service over the coming weeks and how the competition scrambles to respond. Try as they might, no app or service knows me as well as Google does. What's more, find it difficult to believe that anyone else can deliver this level of wow factor.

Can you think of any particular Google app, feature, or service that could benefit from a front-and-center placement in Google Now? What if developers were able to leverage an API or two and tie into the home screen? Would you want that or do you prefer a Google-only experience?
 

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