HERMOSA BEACH, CA —
OK Google, when am I going to San Francisco? Where am I staying? Can you show me directions to get there? And where are some good Italian restaurants in the neighborhood?
Many know that such questions can be posed to Google's computerized eyewear, Glass, but did you know you can have the same conversations and get on-the-money answers from Google simply by conversing with your smartphone?
The under-the-radar feature is called Google Now. And while it's available once you download the free Google Search app for Android and Apple, it does work best with Android phones. More on that in a minute. (And a quick semantics note — the "Google Search" app got a new name on Android phones Tuesday, now it's just called "Google," while the name remains the same, for now, in the Apple App Store.)
Once you sign up and register, Google guesstimates your interests with Google Now "cards" that show up in the Google app, spotlighting everything from weather, local movie showtimes, articles Google thinks you'll be interested and upcoming concert info.
If you're worried about privacy and having Google know and track everything about you, then this isn't the app for you. But if you're an avid user of Google search, Gmail, Maps and Calendar, and don't mind having Google watching over you 24/7, then you'll probably get a kick out of Google Now.
Google Now works when you are signed in to Google and using it a lot. For the new user, Google says it will take about a week for the search giant to learn your interests.
The best first step is to begin by adjusting the settings in the search app, to tell Google of your interests.
Want to hear about specific sports teams or stocks? Do you commute to work by bus or train, or do you drive? Once you tell Google, it can hit with you with reminders in the morning about the timetables, and the best route to take if you're driving.
The information shows up on the iPhone within your Google Search app. If you download the Google Now Launcher app (only available for Android phones) a simple swipe of the main screen will bring you directly to Google Now cards.
Google Now says it can even find your parked car. Sort of. You can't ask it to find it for you, but you can use it to your advantage. When you park and leave the car, check the Google Now card for a map of your location. Open it up to pinpoint your exact address. Then refer to it when you're ready to get back into the car.
Google Now works best on Android phones. For the iPhone, you'll get the relevant cards based on your interests. And you can talk to your phone too, and get relevant answers. What you won't get are personal answers.
For instance, on the iPhone you can ask "How old is Barack Obama?" or "How long will it take me to drive to Mill Valley, Calif.?"
You just can't ask it to do anything personal.
And that's what's the most fun about Google Now.
On the Android phone, I asked what time I was to scheduled to meet my wife (Google knows she's Ruth). I then asked Google to dictate and send a text to her, telling her I would be late. For another meeting, Google sent me a push notification an hour before it was to begin, reminding me to get ready and go — complete with mapping directions to get there.
Here's another fun one: If you post photos on Google +, Google Now can read your mind. Say "show me MY pictures of sunsets," or "show me pictures from MY Oregon vacation," and within seconds, they will indeed pop up, personalized and accurate.
If you have an Android phone, and want to get chatty with your device, Google Now is a great accessory — especially with the Google Now Launcher App. For iOS users, the headlines, local movie listings, music suggestions, weather and reminders are cool to have. It's just too bad you can't be have the same level of conversations. Not only are they useful, they're also a big time saver.