How Google Now can help you be more efficient
1st Dec 2012 | 12:00
Stay on top of things with Google's new app
Google Now is Android's take on Apple's Siri, the voice-powered search engine that understands human speech and delivers nearly instantaneous spoken results.
But while the voice search is a big part of Google Now, it actually goes one step further and learns your day-to-day movements and web searches so it can deliver results it thinks will be useful to you.
While it may sound hideously intrusive, it's actually rather beneficial. Upon waking it looks at traffic and figures out the best route for you to get to work.
If you go travelling, it works out where in the world you are and delivers currency and translation options.
It's all powered by Google's own search engine, and the best time to start using it is - appropriately enough - now.
1. Get it Now
At the time of writing, Google Now is only available on devices that are running Android 4.1 or above. To access it on your device, you need to slide upwards from the home icon, or slide the unlock symbol upwards. You can also get to Now by tapping the 'Google' icon in your Apps folder.
2. Getting started
Start Google Now and tap 'Next' to see examples of how it can help you plan your commute, or get up-to-date information about flights. It then checks with you that it's all right for it to use certain pieces of information, such as your location and calendars. Tap 'Yes, I'm in' to get started.
3. Hidden cards
To start with, you'll see a few cards on the Now page. These are dependent on how often you use Google for directions and searches, but you should see some relevant results here - more appear over time. Tap a card to see relevant results, or swipe horizontally to remove it if you don't want it.
4. Card business
Tap 'Show more cards' and you should see a few more, maybe showing local restaurants and pubs, for example. If there's more than one card in any one category, you can switch between them simply by tapping the top of each one. The more you use Google Now, the more cards you will see.
Each card has a settings icon comprised of three vertical dots. Tapping on this enables you to set the 'Notifications' applicable to each card. 'Standard' means that new notifications appear to the top, accompanied by a ringtone or vibration; 'Low priority' places them to the bottom without any alerts; and 'Off' switches them off altogether.
6. Ideal standards
At the bottom-right you'll find another settings icon. Tap on this to see more sample cards, refresh Now and get new cards, and send feedback to Google. Tap 'Settings' and you're able to set up Voice so you can talk to Now. 'Tablet search' enables you to choose which apps on your tablet Now can search - make sure these are all checked.
7. Sampling the wares
At the top of Google Now, tap 'Show sample cards' and you will see a list of all the categories of cards that are available on the service. Tap 'Sample card' to see an example card for each category. Some of these may be tailored to your personal location or history, such as 'Traffic' or 'Places'.
8. Setting the cards
You'll find a 'Settings' link to the right of each category, with unique settings for each card. 'Traffic' monitors where you go on a regular basis, as well as recent Google searches for places. You can choose which journeys have cards here, and switch to public transport if you don't have a car.
The weather app is particularly handy if you want to see the outlook for the day. In the settings, you can choose to set the card to appear in the morning, in the evening, or always. Now's weather sets itself to your current location, but you can change this to your home or work if you prefer.
Places highlights nearby restaurants, pubs and facilities. Tapping 'More details' brings up a place's location and relevant reviews in Google Maps. 'Check in' enables you to publish your location to Google Plus. In the Places settings you can choose to see cards for 'Places nearby if travelling', which is handy if you're on holiday.
11. Public transport and flights
Google's immense catalogue of data includes public transport, and Now automatically brings up timetables and schedules when you're near bus and train stations, and even works out connections while you're travelling. Flights works similarly, flagging up departure times for flights you've Googled in the past.
You can follow your favourite sports teams on Now, too, and you can choose whether a card appears before, during or after a match. Tap 'Edit teams' and then 'Add teams', and you'll be able to search for and add clubs you support. It's immensely handy if you can't make it to the pub to watch a match.
Any entries and appointments you've got in your Google Calendar automatically show up here. Enter a location in the calendar and Now gives you directions and even uses traffic information to give you enough time to get there. It's hugely handy, and it means you'll never be late for anything again.
'Translation', 'Currency' and 'Time back home' are all useful to globe-trotters, offering automatic options for each. Being able to quickly translate words and phrases is handy, and 'Time back home' is great for planning late-night chats with folk back home. 'Currency' uses the latest exchange rate to ensure you don't spend too much.
15. Search cards
Search is the bread and butter of Google Now, and the more you search, the better and more accurate the results become. You'll find a search bar at the top of Now, and you can enter words or phrases here to find relevant information both on the web and within your Android device's apps.
16. Voice search
Now also includes voice search, which is accessible by tapping the microphone icon to the right of the search bar. It works best when you search for things nearby, so saying "Indian restaurant" or "Leisure centre" brings up results on a map. Other results are presented from Google's conventional search.
17. More voices
Where Now gets really cool is in its ability to recognise and act upon certain phrases and words. Say "Remind me to cook at six o'clock," for example, and Now automatically gives you a reminder. If you're using it on a phone, you can say "Call Andrew," and you'll be put through to the dialling screen.
18. Word search
You can also use spoken queries and Now 'talks' the results back to you. Try asking "Who founded Google?" for instance, and it will respond by telling you that "Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin." You can also search for movie casts, word definitions, authors and capital cities.
19. Number games
Times and conversions can also be used in Now. Asking "What's £100 in dollars?" will result in Now speaking the conversion back to you, while asking for "nine per cent of 365" will give you the correct result. "What time is it in Rome?" will tell you the local time there, and you can also search for sunrises and sunsets.
20. The time is Now
Following this tutorial should have given you a complete overview of how Google Now can be used on a day-to-day basis, and how to set up each category to your liking. You're also privy to a number of tips and tricks that make it more fun and useful. And don't forget that the more you use it, the better the results will be.