Google Nexus devices (i.e., Nexus 5) have featured Google Now prominently as well as “OK Google” hands free voice search. But now the company is rolling that experience out to a slightly broader array of devices.
Google Play devices can now get these same features by installing the “Google Launcher” (app). Below are the “new” features (as represented in the Google Play store):
- Google Now on your home screen
- Say “Ok Google” – when you’re on your home screen, just say “Ok Google” to trigger voice input. Then say your search query. Or tell your phone what to do, like send a text message, get directions, or play a song (available in the US, UK, and Canada).
- Faster search – tap the search box and you can enter your query immediately.
- Easy access to your favorite Google products and services, like Gmail, YouTube, and Maps.
- Larger viewing area – the status and navigation bars are now translucent, so your wallpaper pops from every pixel, and is even visible when you expand your apps drawer (when supported by device).
- Intuitive wallpaper picker – select any image that’s stored on your device, or in the cloud. Position and preview your wallpaper before you set it.
I’ve basically been living with this on a Nexus device for many months. Accordingly I was initially confused by the announcement since there was nothing for me to install and nothing different. These features represent an incremental upgrade for existing KitKit users who don’t already have them.
Whereas Google Now was initially a novelty I’ve come to rely on it for certain kinds of information: weather, sports scores, travel information (flight times and traffic), calendar entries and news content to a degree. Indeed, I’d like to see Google further develop Now and integrate more news into it.
I suppose the rationale behind expanding distribution of the “launcher” is to pre-empt another party from taking control of the Android home screen. Here I’m thinking specifically about recent Yahoo acquisition Aviate, another Android launcher or “intelligent homescreen” that has a great opportunity to insert itself between users and Google on Android devices.
Aviate’s success (or failure), however, will be based on smart design choices and continued technology investment by Yahoo.
The notion of “intelligent assistant” has become a kind of metaphor for a next-generation “search” experience. And because of a new API from Expect Labs, app developers can deliver Google Now-like functionality within their own app environment for free essentially.