Google Now is a feature you might not know you already have on your smartphone or tablet, or even have access to. It's a really handy source of information so here's where we show you how to use Google Now and what it can do. It's now part of the Google Assistant too.
Update February 2017: The Google Assistant will reportedly soon be available to more Android phones. It was already tipped to be extended to the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, and that the upcoming LG G6 would be the first non-Google smartphone to include it, but now code in an alpha release of the Google app suggests the assistant could make its way to older Android phones soon (source).
How to use the Google Assistant
Google Assistant is the new way to interact with Google and is essentially a supped up version of Google Now. It’s the same search engine and knowledge graph underneath but with a new interface which is like a message thread.
For the time being its exclusive to Google’s new Pixel phones but will be available for Android in the form of an app in the future.
One of the main ideas behind having a conversational style of interaction is not so you can simply enjoy chatting to Google, but the importance of context. For example, if you’re talking to someone about a possible gig and want to go for some food beforehand it will know that the two relate to each other and give you helpful information like how far apart they are.
Context also goes as far as to whatever’s on your screen like Google Now on Tap so try long pressing the home button on the Pixel phone and swiping up – you’ll automatically get relevant information.
You can use the Google Assistant for all kinds of things, many of which are existing commands like setting an alarm or creating a reminder. It goes further though so you can get it to remember a bike lock combination if you’re forgetful.
A bit like Siri (Apple’s version) you can ask the Google Assistant for a joke, poems or even games. It will talk to you about the weather and what you’re day looks like, too.
Sadly not everything Google touts as features are available in the UK so we’ve been unable to do things like book a table at a restaurant or order an Uber ride. It can get confusing at times what you can and can’t do so either just attempt it or ask ‘what can you do’.
The Google Assistant is personalised like Google Now and will be more helpful if it knows things about you like where your office is or what team you support. It will also, Google says, get better over time as it learns.
What is Google Now?
Google Now is a service which provides you with information. By getting to know you and using other information like your location, it will serve up data which it thinks you'll want. The general idea is that it will display things which you are going to search for, therefore saving you the hassle of actually conducting said search.
As Google puts it, "See helpful cards with information that you need throughout your day, before you even ask."
Information is displayed in cards so you will likely see a card for a weather forecast and this might show information for different locations like home and work. The more you use Google Now, the more it can help you out with everything from sports scores, stocks and shares, suggested articles, flight information and more.
The service will also provide notifications: for example, it might tell you of a delay to you daily commute or remind you that you need to leave the office if you're going to arrive on time for a meeting. We'll explain how to get the most out of Google Now below.
On which devices can I use Google Now?
Although Google Now is primarily an Android feature for both smartphones and tablets, the firm has made is available for iOS, too. In the same way in which you can get apps like Google Maps and Gmail for Apple products, Google Now is on the App Store for iPhones and iPads running iOS 7 or later.
On Android, you'll need a smartphone or tablet running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or later for Google Now to work.
How to open and access Google Now
Google Now is part of the Google Search app which is likely to be installed on your Android device already. However, Google Now won't start showing you cards unless you opt into the service. To do this, tap on the Google search bar which is probably already on your homescreen and follow the instructions.
Once you've opted in, you can open Google Now by swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen and selecting the Google options (some phones have other items in this hidden menu).
Alternatively, you can install the Google Now launcher which is essentially the user interface from the Nexus 5 which puts the service one swipe away from the main homescreen. On iOS you're only option is to simply open the app.
What can Google Now show?
We've already talked about some of the cards which Google Now can show so let's take an in-depth look at everything which is currently on offer. We say currently as Google occasionally adds functionality.
Google splits the available cards into three categories: Daily management, Stay connected and Location. We'll look at all three below.
This section makes up core of Google Now and accounts for a large majority of the cards that it will show – although some require access to Gmail, calendar, Google+, web history or location (or a combination) to work.
The most common card is weather which will show you the forecast for current location and work or home depending on where you are. Other core cards include traffic and events.
Here's a full list of the daily management cards which might pop up: Activity summary, next appointment, weather, traffic, flights, hotels, restaurant reservations, events, packages, friend's birthday and your birthday.
This section is about keeping you informed of the things you're interested in and includes sports, shares and research topics (pretty much anything you google). In the settings you can choose which ones you want to see and which teams you follow. If you don't want Google Now to spoil the score then make sure you adjust the settings for the sports cards.
As we mentioned earlier Google Now can provide you with information specific to where you are. If you switch location services on then you'll get cards detailing places (bars, restaurants etc), nearby attractions and nearby photo spots.
If you're abroad, it will also show you cards for translation, currency and the time back home.
How to use Google Now: Interaction, customisation and voice commands
We already explained how to open and access Google Now. So once you've open it, a vertical list of cards will be displayed which you can scroll though – pull down to refresh the list. Any card which you're done with can be removed by swiping it to either side.
All cards have three dots in the top right corner which you can click to inform Google Now if that card type or subject area is interesting to you. At the very bottom is also three dots which will take you to the main settings menu for Google Now.
However, tap the magic wand icon at the bottom to customise things like your important places, sports teams, stocks and other things. The remaining hand icon on the left is for reminders.
Google Now voice commands: OK Google
As well as simply viewing the cards, customising them and swiping them away, you can interact with Google Now by voice. There's a search bar at the top which you can type in or hit the microphone icon to start a voice command.
Once you've activated a voice search, which you do by saying "Ok Google", you can ask a question and you'll be given a list of search results in card form. Where appropriate and possible, you'll be shown an information card at the very top.
As well as regular web searches, you can use Google Now as an assistant a bit like Siri on the iPhone. You can ask it to do all kinds of things, most of which you probably didn't know about. Below is a list of things you can say. This is not an exhaustive list, but includes the main commands:
• Open (eg. pcadvisor.co.uk, BBC iPlayer app)
• Take a picture/photo
• Record a video
• Set an alarm for…
• Set a timer for…
• Remind me to… (includes times and locations)
• Make a note
• Create a calendar event
• What is my schedule for tomorrow?
• Where's my package?
• Send email to…
• Post to…
• Where is the nearest…?
• Navigate to…
• Directions to…
• Where is…?
• Show me my flight info
• Where's my hotel?
• What are some attractions around here?
• How do you say [hello] in [Japanese]?
• What is [100 pounts] in [dollars]?
• What's the flight status of…?
• Play some music (opens "I'm feeling lucky" radio station in Google Play Music)
• Next Song / Pause Song
• Play/watch/read… (content must be in Google Play library)
• What's this song?
• Do a barrel roll
• Beam me up Scotty (audio response)
• Make me a sandwich (audio response)
• Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right (audio response)
• Who are you? (audio response)
• When am I? (audio response)
For more on using OK Google and the translation function, see How to use OK Google
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