What Is Google Now and How Do I Use It?

When Jelly Bean was officially announced, Android users had a lot to be excited about. The latest version of the OS is super-smooth (like Butter!), there are expandable notifications that actually include functionality, there is a better keyboard, better widgets, and a better camera/gallery.

The biggest announcements, of course, were the addition of a better voice search, and with it, Google Now. So what is Google Now? Let’s find out!

Google Now is still very much in beta, so I will keep that in mind as a talk about it.

Google Now, as Google puts it, “brings you just the right information at just the right time”. The idea is that Google Now will use everything it ‘knows’ about you to deliver timely information based on your schedule, location, hobbies, time of day, and more.


Google Now presents you with this information using what they call Cards, and Android will notify you when a new Card pops up (based on your settings). For example, Google Now hit me with this card during the Yankees/Red Sox game because it knows the Yankees are my favorite baseball team:

Low blow, Google. Low blow.

I’ve organized the information Google Now presents you into two categories: Day-to-Day and Travel. Let’s look at Day-to-Day first.

To access Google Now, you just need to press ‘Google’ in the search bar that appears at the top of each screen, or swipe up from the Home button.

Day-to-Day Information

Part of what Google Now presents to you is information that will help get you through the day. This includes:

  • Weather
  • Traffic
  • Appointments
  • Public Transit
  • Sports
  • Places Nearby (which can be in both categories)

I’ve already shown you Sports. Google Now will use you previous searches to determine which teams you’re interested in and present you real time scores of those games. You can easily manage teams in the Settings, in case Google picks up a team you don’t really care for.

Weather is probably pretty self-explanatory; it will get your location and give you the current conditions as well as the five-day forecast. There is an option to always display this card or only display it in the morning or in the evening (for the next day’s forecast).

Local Weather

Public Transportation and Places Nearby

Both Public Transportation and Places Nearby are based on the location reading from your device’s GPS. Public Transportation will give you schedules when you’re near a Bus or Train station, as well as ‘when traveling.’

Places Nearby will show you exactly that: notable places in the area. This one is a bit interesting. I’ve been using Jelly Bean for a couple of weeks now but I can’t tell how Google Now discerns what is notable to show you. I did notice that some time after I Googled ‘Chic Fil-A’ to read up on all the recent hubbub surrounding the company, Google Now told me when I was near an establishment, but I believe there is more to it than just Google searches.

Public Transportation and Nearby Places

Appointments and Traffic

Appointments and Traffic could very well be the most useful as far as day-to-day stuff goes. With Appointments, Google Now will grab your next appointment from your calendar and display it as a card as the appointment approaches. If travel is required, it will notify you the day of, and bring up a Traffic card that gives you a traffic report and a link to directions, which is really cool!

Speaking of the traffic card, here is the description according to Google:

Get traffic conditions and alternate routes before you leave for work. Google Now also puts traffic to your next likely destination at your fingertips.

While I have experienced the latter, my commute has actually been somewhat erratic over the last couple of weeks as I’ve been running errands or making stops along the way, so my phone hasn’t been able to get a good idea of my commute. However, it has noticed I’ve been stopping at the Starbucks on campus and tells me about ones nearby when I leave work. I think as this service learns, it will get considerably better. I’ll be very interested to see how it does in a couple of months time.

Traffic based on recent search.

Travel Information

There are some services I didn’t mention above that I think better fit into the category of Travel Information. They are:

  • Flights
  • Translation
  • Currency
  • Time Back Home

Places Nearby would also qualify for this section, as I’d imagine you could probably rely on it a bit in an area you’re unfamiliar with.

Flights will grab information on flights you’ve searched for with Google and give you updates on status and traffic to the airport. This is a pretty interesting one because (since I haven’t flown since getting Jelly Bean) I’m not exactly sure how it works. My inclination would be that it could grab the flight info from your calendar, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. The card looks very cool and the idea is great, but the jury is still out on how well it works for me.

Upcoming Flight Info

Translation, Currency, and Time Back Home are much more intuitive as far as functionality and usage go. Google will grab your location and show each of the three based on the following (respective) criteria: you visit a place with a different language, you visit a place with a different currency, or you’re in a different time zone from the one you’re normally in. It would seem that with the former two, Google takes its best guess at which language and currency is being used.

Travel cards (images from Google Now’s official site)


The idea behind Google Now is a great one — it’s a personal assistant that doesn’t need to be engaged by the user. Theoretically, it should just work. It will also learn based on your habits and search history, which is a fascinating concept. Of course, you can be as open with it or as private as you’d like; if location and web history aren’t turned on, Google Now won’t give you too much information as it’s not getting much from you.

I’m not going to rate it because I don’t think it really fair. I haven’t travelled outside of where I live while using it and for some functionality, I haven’t given good enough patterns for it to work to it’s full potential. It’s also still in beta. I will say that from what I’ve seen, it is very cool and incredibly helpful at times. It has some very serious potential, as well as implications for the future of mobile devices.

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  • Dave B

    Buy a saying that google search will work better with this google now, that means that it will actually work at all, right? Do we have to install ice cream sandwich which takes away the functionality of half of our applications? Will voice search or voice command work even a tenth as well as yahoo voice search?

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    @ Dave B I dont kniw what your talking about ICS making half your apps not work, when I upgraded my 3 devices I got even more apps available to use & didnt have any problems with my installed apps. If your having problems withs apps after installing ICS then do a factory reset on the device & download your apps again & you shouldnt have any problems. You might say what good is a update if I always have to do a factory reset of my device but it is not needed for other updates. ICS was a complete rebuild of the Android OS which runs diferently then Gingerbread, it wont need to be done when updating from ICS to Jelly Bean as its a minor update building onto ICS.
    GOOGLE NOW is amazing although like mentioned its still in Beta & there isnt too many cards available yet but you can see where they are headed with it and wow Im super impressed. Other than the mentioned you can ask things like “How tall is the CN Tower” & it will display a card with the answer as well as dictate the card to you. You can active Google Now by pressing the physical search button on your device. This just goes to show what Ive been saying for awhile now ANDROID IS THE FUTURE – KID ANDROID

    • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ Michael James Williams


    • Dave B

      I have no interest in serving my property, instead of the other way around. No interest in searching down and installing or reloading or finding everything that’s going to be lost from my phone with this factory reset. This phone is not the reason for my existence, so that’s why I point out that google search and voice command and voice talk do not work any where near the way they have been claimed in the advertising. Every review of application updates on google play included users saying that ice cream sandwich has removed functions of the application. I understand that this is the kind of thing that proves you but I have a real life out of the human world and I have no interest in something that makes me work for it.

      • http://www.casabona.org Joe Casabona

        It sounds like you’re a bit misinformed. The only removal of functionality I’m aware of is that Search on the Galaxy Nexus only searches the web now due to a lawsuit from Apple. Can you give me some examples of reviews you’ve read where it says ICS has removed app functionality?

        There is also no need to be insulting. Everyone is using technology and it doesn’t always work perfectly. Sometimes we need to troubleshoot. That’s the nature of the field, whether you have a, “real life out of the human world” or not.

  • Dave B

    Skype! How is real world existence insulting? Is it because you have this for a career and I just own it for my own use? I don’t care if you believe me; I don’t necessarily believe you. By the way, “you’re”, not “your”. With this real world life, I’m not going to do the listing of poor ICS reviews for you. If you are unaware of all of them maybe it’s because you’re an advocate and this is deliberate. Nothing
    personal, but your part of our population is pretty well known for condescending to those of us that our independence from our electronics.

    • Ron b.

      Lol, wow. You even threw in a grammar correction. No, your not a douche at all.

      Look, you don’t like it, just don’t use it. Just don’t go around acting like this just because you don’t like it.

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  • Forrest

    Dave take a chill pill man. I get it you are most likely over 45, male, with a slight temper who just does this to feel good about himself because he doesn’t understand tech. Thats fine bro (its a young person word), just take it somewhere else. I like this site, don’t ruin it for everyone.

  • Sigilist

    It is amazing how much people hear aren’t even listening to each other. You are all beginning to sound like Apple neophytes and detractors… talking across each other instead of to each other.

    Then again, I have run into this before on AppStorm.

    Joe, a pretty good introductory run down on what is, isn’t, and might be coming for Google Now. I personally won’t use it because of privacy reasons and the need to sacrifice privacy to get anything worthwhile out of it, but I do see some potential shift in the development (not design) paradigm. Perhaps there’s a move towards acknowledging individual-specific privacy levels, tangents, AND settings becoming more acknowledged in implementation than just lip service debate. It’s about time, as Google has outright sucked in that arena for a long time. They’ve been big on lip service in this area and that’s about all.

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