How Google Now can boost your efficiency

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Last week we discussed the background of Apple’s Siri and all of the commands that you can give this intelligent voice assistant. Now those of you who do not use Apple need not feel left out, because Google has developed its very own voice-activated helper specifically for Android and the Google Chrome web browser, called Google Now. Here is the lowdown on Google Now and how it can boost your efficiency.

Some background info on Google Now

Google Now is an intelligent personal assistant created as part of the Google Search mobile application. It uses a natural language user interface to answer questions, make recommendations and perform actions. All of this is done by delegating to a set of web services based on each one’s unique features.

Aside from answering questions, Google Now also proactively delivers information to the user about what it thinks the user wants or needs. This information is pulled from the user’s own repeated search habits.

Google Now also has a helper of its own in the form of Now cards. These cards contain condensed snippets of information and are shown exactly when you need them, without having to search. For example, if you book a flight online and get a booking confirmation via Gmail, a Now card will be created to remind you of the date and time of your flight, when you need to leave to be on time for the flight and so forth. Here are some of the many functions of Now cards:

  • Boarding pass
  • Hotel listing
  • Activity summary (walking/cycling)
  • Time reminders
  • Places
  • Movies
  • Next appointment
  • Weather
  • Event reminders
  • Packages
  • Parking location
  • Restaurant reservations
  • Product listing
  • Stocks
  • Sports

At the beginning of 2015, Google started showing Now cards from certain popular apps on Android devices. Very recently it was announced that 70 additional apps have been added to the list that show Now cards. Some of these app partners include ABC News, Spotify, Waze, eBay, TripAdvisor, The Guardian, Hootsuite, Mint and many more.

Google Now first became available to the public in 2012 when it was included in the Android 4.1 (Jellybean) update.

General commands and questions

All you need to start using Google Now is to have the Google Search application installed.

To activate voice detection, open the Google Search app. In the top left corner of the page you will see the Menu icon (three horizontal lines on top of each other); click it and go to Settings > Voice > “Ok Google” detection.

If you want the “Ok Google” voice detection to work only from within the app, tick the box next to “From Google app” in the settings mentioned above.

If you would like “Ok Google” to work even if the app is not open, check the box next to “From any screen” or “Always on”. Google will give you a set of instructions on teaching Google Now to recognize your voice and respond only to you.

Now that that is done, here are some of the useful tasks you can carry out with Google Now*:

Commuting

Even though some people may find Google Now’s all-seeing habits kind of disconcerting, it can help reduce the stress of your daily commute. From looking at your daily travelling Google Now figures out where your home and work are located, and will show you daily Now cards that estimate your commute based on the time and location. You can make this more accurate by specifying what method of travel (car, walking, cycling, etc.) you most frequently use.

You can also make your commute safer by enabling Commute Sharing, which helps your loved ones to see exactly where you are in your commute. This is especially useful if you are travelling alone and want people to know your whereabouts, or so that people you are meeting can know exactly when you will arrive. To enable this feature, open the Google Search app and go to the Menu. Go to Settings > Google Now > Traffic and check the box next to “Let them see your commute updates”. There are also settings that allow you to select who may see these notifications.

Reminders

On any given day all of us have many things to remember – but Google Now can help you organize your errands with a few simple words. Simply say “Ok Google … set a reminder for (insert whatever you want to be reminded of here).”

You can also associate a certain errand or reminder with a certain location or time. For example, you can ask Google Now to remind you to pick up batteries the next time you are at a specific store, or remind you to call your dad at 8 a.m. the next morning.

Parking

Do you frequently forget where you parked your car? Google Now can help you to find it. Using the accelerometer in your smartphone it tracks how far and to where you’re driving, when you stop driving, how far you walk from your car, and so on. This helps Google Now to determine your approximate parking spot, and shows you where to go when you’re ready to go home.

Other useful commands

  • Alarms and timers: “Set timer for 10 minutes”, “Set alarm for 6 a.m.”, “Wake me up in 2 hours”
  • Time and date: “What time is it in (place)”, “When is the sunset?”, “What is (place)’s time zone?” Create a calendar event: (event, date, time, place).”
  • Information: “How old is …?”, “Who invented …?”, “Search for …”, “Author of …?”, “What is …?”
  • Communication: “Call (person on contact list)”, “Send email to (person on contact list). Subject: Meeting, Message: Will be there in 5 minutes.”
  • Sports: “When is the next (sports team name) game?”, “Did (sports team) win their last game?”
  • Conversions and calculations: “What is the square root of 81?”, “What is 13 times 35?”, “Convert … to …” (can be currency, length, weight, etc.), “What is 5% of 35?”
  • Entertainment: “Listen to/play (song) by (artist)”, “YouTube (video name or search term)”, “What is this song?”
  • Weather: “Weather”, “What is the weather in (place)?”, “How is the weather going to be in (place) on (date or day of week)?” Is it going to rain tomorrow?”
  • Maps and navigation: “How far is (place) from (place)?”, “Navigate to (place)”, “Show me nearest restaurant on map”, “Directions to (address, name, destination)”
  • Browsing: “Go to (website name)”, “Open (web address)”, “Browse to (website name or address)”
  • Flights: “Flight status of (flight number)?”, “When will (flight number) land/depart?”

* Please note that these are not all of the commands and questions available to use, simply a condensed version.

Easter eggs

Some just-for-fun questions or commands for Google Now that will brighten up your day:

  • “Do a barrel roll”
  • “What does the fox say?”
  • “What’s the loneliest number?”
  • “Who are you?”
  • “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”
  • “Tilt” or “Askew”
  • “Beam me up, Scotty!”
  • “What’s your favourite colour?”
  • “Go go gadget (app name)”
  • “What is the bacon number of (celebrity’s name)?” – this comes from the theory that all celebrities can be connected to the actor Kevin Bacon. It is similar to “Six Degrees of Separation”.
  • “Make me a sandwich!”