Rumors have been swirling that Google Now (the Big G's super-useful personal assistant application) would be coming to the search page on Google.com, but surprise! Our friends on iOS are getting the love first. Starting today, Google Now will be rolled into the Google Search app for iPhone and iPad.
Google Now, for those not familiar, is a very slick app that debuted in Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) last June. Its main selling point is that it gives you the information you want before you even ask for it. It's not perfect, but it's come a long way since launch, and it's pretty excellent. It can tell you when you need to leave for your next appointment, and give you directions for getting there. It can automatically track everything from your FedEx packages to your favorite sports teams in real time. The information shows up on little cards (and in notifications, if you so desire), which are easy to read and simple to dismiss. You decide how much or how little of your personal information you give it access to, but of course the more access you give it, the more it can do.
Google Now is now a part of the Google Search app for iOS. You just download the app (or app update if you already have it), and log in to your Google account. Then you can start tweaking it to your heart's content. While it will have almost all of the same functionality as the Android version, there will be a few things missing at launch: it can't yet manage your boarding passes, events, Fandango, concerts, research topics, nearby events, and a couple of other things, but those will likely be added soon. In the meantime, everything else is just as you'd find it in Jelly Bean. At the same time, it won't be quite as integrated an experience as it is on Android. On Android, Now runs constantly in the background, and is never more than a tap away. For iOS, it'll likely be sandboxed into Google Search, and won't be quite as easy to access. Still, though! Better to have it slightly hamstrung than not to have it at all.
You might think that Google would want to save some special sauce for its Android users, but ultimately Google sells Google, not Android. And while Google Now gives you lots of useful information, it also gives Google access to all kinds of geolocation and personal preference data that will make it easier to serve you highly relevant ads across every platform. The move also fits right in with the rumors that Now may be coming to Google's homepage for users who are signed in (which would be awesome). Google just wants you to use its products, and it's down to give away a lot of good stuff to keep you using them, regardless of what phone, computer, or browser you use.
iOS users can get Now through a Google Search update in the app store starting today. Give it a shot, and see what you think. It may take a few days for it to learn your preferences and what info is important to you, but once it does, you'll start to wonder how you ever lived without it. [Google]
UPDATE #1: Hands On
We just downloaded the app and have been playing with it. After a short explanation of what Now is, you'll be asked if you want to opt in. If you do (and you do), you log in, and it starts populating some cards right away. Because I've used Now on Android previously, it knew that I wanted A's and Giants scores, for example. It's very nicely laid out. The landing screen basically just looks like search, and then you scroll down to get into your Google Now cards. As with Android, if there's a card you're not interest in, you just swipe it away. Not surprisingly, searching by voice works really well.
Naturally, we haven't yet been able to test how well it works in the background or see what notifications will be like (which are a large part of the equation), but so far so good.
UPDATE #2: Houston, we have a problem.
As some of our astute readers have pointed out, using Google Now on iOS seems to lock your GPS into the ON position, which causes it to slurp down battery like a teenager with a Mountain Dew. Obviously, this isn't good. We've confirmed the problem on our device as well. Reaching out to Google for a comment now.
UPDATE #3: A Google spokesperson pointed us in the direction of the support page addressing this topic:
You may notice the Location Services icon in your status bar after you start using Google Now. It appears because Google Search sometimes reports your location even when you’re not actively using the app. Google Now uses these reports to give you traffic alerts and other updates. Along with Location Services, Google Now uses Location Reporting to get precise location information. Since Location Reporting has been optimized to use GPS as infrequently as possible, there should be minimal impact on your battery life.