Back in July of 2012, Google launched a digitized personal assistant known as Google Now. The platform, which was clearly intended to compete with Apple's Siri, was originally available only for Android tablets and smart phones. This week, it finally hits the iPhone and iPad, as an update to the already-formidable Google Search iOS app.
"Google Now is about giving you just the right information at just the right time," Google's Andrea Huey wrote in a blog post today. "It can show you the day’s weather as you get dressed in the morning, or alert you that there’s heavy traffic between you and your butterfly-inducing date – so you’d better leave now! It can also share news updates on a story you’ve been following, remind you to leave for the airport so you can make your flight and much more."
Google Now is organized by "cards" that show information meant only for you – local train schedules, for instance, or a 10-day weather forecast. You can use Now to remind you of upcoming appointments, or to make sure a particularly important event gets on the calendar; as is the case with Apple's Siri, the whole orchestra of information can be managed by voice control. Handy!
Of course, as Ryan Paul of Ars Technica noted last summer, when Google Now was first trotted out, the platform may be good for consumers, but it's also very, very good for Google.
"Google Now clearly dovetails with Google’s business model and long-term business interests," Mr. Paul noted. "The amount of functionality that Google can offer through this service is directly tied to the amount of personal information people are willing to give the company, making Now a perfect fit for Google’s ambition of organizing the world’s information."
Indeed, any current subscribers to the old Google is Skynet meme are unlikely to start using Now, a platform that gulps down and digests user data by the gigabyte. ("Confirmed: Google's Siri-Esque Personal Assistant Is Creepy," reads the headline of one skeptical piece on Google Now.)
In related news, earlier this month, after a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union raised some concerns about the service, Apple acknowledged that it keeps data collected by Siri on hand for two years (although Apple says that after six months, that data is effectively anonymized, or separated from the ID of the user who made the request). More here.
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