Back in the early days of the internet in the 1990s people would refer to it as ‘The Information Super Highway’ because of the sheer amount of (potential) information on offer and quick access to it.
This was a time when, to get information you would pretty much have to know where to access it, when Microsoft Encarta was the de facto go to encyclopaedia and your homepage was likely set by AOL.
A way to access this information was necessary and search engines vied for supremacy. Search engines like Lycos and Ask Jeeves billed themselves as media hubs or novelties. Google however was different. This was all about the search. All you got with Google was a box and access to information. Before the term UX Design was even coined Google had it nailed.
With Now on Tap Google are going someway to once again redefine search in a more mobile orientated world.
The majority of web browsing is now done on a mobile device whether that is on a mobile or a tablet and while predictive searching goes some way to solve the problem the limitations of keyboard searching on smaller devices are there to be seen. Smartphones and tablets are best suited to tapping and swiping which is what Google agrees on with Now on Tap.
Now on Tap actually comes out of the existing Google Now application which gives Android users the ability to access the information they need quickly, through speech, much like Siri or Cortana does for iPhone and Windows Phone users respectively.
Now on Tap aims to give Android users this PDA service in the native build of Android Marshmallow. Where Now on Tap has the edge on its rivals is that it is backed up by Google’s wealth of search information and so promises to be able to do more than effectively give announcements about the weather or playing music tracks.
By pressing the home button at any given time users will have access to additional information about a subject they are already looking at also by using the simple ‘Okay Google’ voice tag you will be able to easily access PDA info a la Cortana and Siri.
While much of the voice functionality is nothing new Google intends to make search more fluid and meaningful. Google Now on Tap promises to give context to search making that hasn’t been seen before and create what it calls the knowledge graph. This means that Google will come to understand the context of what you are reading, watching or using and be able to impart more relevant information if you need it. For example if you receive a text message from a friend recommending to meet at a particular restaurant for lunch gently pressing the home button will see Google Now on Tap bring up more information on that restaurant such as opening times. It will have understood the context of the content and gives you additional information accordingly.
One interesting point of the service is the name itself. By calling the service Now on Tap Google is concentrating on the service provided, not focussing on a fictional ‘person’ or personality like many of its rivals. A small point, but it shows where Google’s feelings lie on the PDA subject. Also Google’s head of search Amit Singhal points out that: “”One of the challenges with computer-based personalities is that human-based interactions are far more nuanced than can be encoded in an algorithm today.” In other words he doesn’t feel that a computer-based ‘personality’ is actually ready to do the job it would need to do. We are certainly not in ‘Her’ territory yet. This makes Google’s approach to search and the digital PDA seem on the ball.
Sceptics such as Apple’s Tim Cook point to the desire of Google to monetize this service however rather than actually improve the user’s experience of using mobile and search. Because Now on Tap works with applications it means that Google will have access to information on users and their interests they might not otherwise have had through non-native apps.
Also, in order for it to work as well as it possibly can users will need to give away information such as where they work, like to eat etc. so Now on Tap can learn and get better. It is a trade-off.
Google has been quick to defend itself against such criticism however and points to the fact that users must opt-in to use Google Now on Tap, if they don’t want to have their information shared, they don’t have to. Also, Google was keen to stress that the service only works when you want it to by pressing the home button also that any contextual information it gathers will not be kept.
It all sounds promising.
With Cortana, Siri and Now on Tap plus other apps by Facebook and Amazon trying to do the same thing we are in an interesting world of search and mobile interaction.