Google Now and Voice Search: A Digital Assistant for the Modern Age

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Google Now was a service that appeared on a select few Android phones back in 2012 and has slowly built momentum until Google recently decided to push Now services into a wide variety of its devices – which means, if you use any type of Google phone or Chrome feature, you should consider learning how to incorporate Google Now into your daily life.

The most popular description of Now is usually “digital assistant,” because it seeks to rapidly give you the information you need, when you need it. As Google has refined the feature, its usefulness has grown. If your phone has this capability, don’t be afraid to dive in and start using it.

Now: Set-Up and “Cards”

Now takes a little bit of work to get start, primarily because it is highly customizable and you need to “teach” it about your life, habits, and what sort of information you want on hand. This learning behavior is based on what Google calls “cards”, or blocks of information that it can bring up as you need them. W

hen turned on, Google Now sends these cards to your screen whenever it thinks you might need them — they act as visual shortcuts to do what you want, from making a phone to following a sports game to setting an appointment. But Google doesn’t want to send you a bunch of cards that you don’t want, so you need to take time to show the program what you prefer. There are three basic steps in this process, one initial set-up step and two more ongoing stages:

Answer Questions: First, you can go through your information and specify settings and access. Google will search your contacts and allow you to make any of them a Card, allowing for immediate contact commands. You can also turn on location-based services. Enter the customization feature (designated by a tiny wand button) and Google will drill down even further, asking you questions about your life. It will want to know you preferred methods of transportation, your work life, your entertainment favorites, your financial interests, and similar information. You can be as detailed as you want, or skip these questions altogether.

Customize Cards: After the first stage, Google Now creates a myriad of cards it can use to offer you help. However, you still have the ability to dive in and customize these cards, which is a good idea when first using Now. If you visit settings, you can see all of your cards and which Now is using. You can turn cards on or off from this menu as you look, essentially correcting Now’s mistakes or choosing which parts of your life Now is involved in.

Create (or Destroy) New Cards on the Fly: If Now sends up a card that you don’t want to see, just swipe that card off the screen and it will automatically turn off. During some searches Google will also ask if you want to create a quick reminder card about the subject. Likewise, as you use Now’s voice commands Google will present new information based on what you have told it about your lifestyle.

Wait, Another Voice Service?

Now CardYes, a key piece of Now is its voice search function, which allows you to summon up cards and save time without bringing up the touchscreen keypad. You can control the voice command function, narrowing it down to only “information” if you just want to search for items, but the best advantages are found in full functionality when Google Now can also make calls, reservations, and updates at your bidding.

Of course, this sounds like some other voice services that mobile users are familiar with, including Siri and Microsoft’s latest effort, Cortana. The Internet has plenty of lists comparing the voice commands (and some show that Google Now does score highest in accuracy). However, they all attempt to offer the same basic services. With Google Now, however, you do not need to use the voice option if you’d rather not.

Where is it Available?

Now is available for a number of devices. If you have a new Android phone it should be automatically present from the search menu. If you use an iPhone or other “i” device, you can download it from the iTunes, too. The app also integrates with your desktop if you use the Chrome browser, or is available directly if you happen to have a Chromebook. Best of all, Now is free in all its forms.

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