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.