Discovery of new code suggests that the contextual search engine and virtual assistant Google Now could soon be on every internet connected device in the world -- unless the owner prefers Bing or Yahoo! search to Google.
An anticipatory search engine and virtual assistant, Google Now
will be more than familiar with those Android device owners lucky enough to have smartphones and tablets that run version 4.2 or later of the open source operating system. Google Now removes the need to actually search for many things, as it learns about a user's needs, tastes and schedule and automatically pushes timely information to a device at the exact point in time it believes that device's owner needs it. To achieve this, Google Now tracks the device's location, the entries in the calendar, the content of emails in a Gmail account, search history and preferences -- such as taste in music or which sports teams the user supports and follows.
For example, a digital version of a boarding card will appear on an Android device's homescreen as its owner approaches an airport, as will the weather forecast for the city to which the person is flying. Being able to provide such intelligent and timely services requires user tracking, massive data analysis and contextual understanding. The system has been updated and expanded four times since its launch in 2012 but the major obstacle to its long-term development and performance is that Google Now is confined to the latest version of Android, meaning that it is only being used and improved by approximately 26% of active Android devices globally.
Rumors have been circulating for months that Google would be extending the platform's reach to the Chrome browser, but now it appears that Google Now is going to be integrated into Google itself -- front and center on the search engine's homepage.
Some elements of Google Now have already made their way into the search engine. Google a famous person or well-known city and, as well as a list of search results, a card appears in the right-hand side of the screen giving an overview of that person, or point in history, complete with an image.
The uncovered code snippets first discovered and reported by the Google Operating Blog (a site not affiliated in any way with Google) suggest that Google search engine users will also be able to set and change their location and to ‘discover Google Now' as part of their daily Googling. There is no doubt that the service, even in its early stages, is impressive, although as with its other big push into the future of computing, Google Glass, ‘Now' raises a number of privacy and anonymity concerns.
But the fact that the code shows that Google Now is being offered as an opt-in rather than an opt-out feature should minimize most dissenting voices.