Essays on Technology and Culture

A Brief Update on Google Now

After replacing my shared iCloud calendar subscriptions in Google Calendar with actual calendar events, Google Now actually became a service that worked almost as advertised. Almost, but not close enough. I started getting push notifications for the events on my calendar, but the wrong ones, and at inopportune moments. I don't need to be told traffic is bad and I should leave for work at 8:35 when I'm already on my way to work—by subway. Certainly not after explicitly telling Google Now I don't drive, and to only give me public transit directions.

I put up with Google Now's lunacy for a few days, hoping it would get better. After a Google Now card telling me to go to work, when I was already at work, by walking around the block, I gave up. I turned off Google Now, uninstalled the app, moved my calendars back to iCloud, and now I'm waiting to see what Apple has in store for Siri in iOS 8. Public transit directions in Apple Maps are a given, at least. My only hope that Apple's context-aware solution will work better than Google Now or any of the third party alternatives, is that Apple tends to not release half-baked new features. 1

It's not hard to get the data. My iPhone knows where I live, where I work, and where the next event I'm going to in the evening is. It's doing useful stuff with the data that's hard. It's so easy to picture my phone buzzing while I'm eating breakfast to say “Get your butt out the door, the F train is delayed. You can switch to the E at Union Turnpike, and get to work five minutes faster if you leave now. By the way, your package from Amazon is out for delivery, and it's your best friend's birthday tomorrow.” I know I can count on the last two, but the first is still up in the air. About a year ago, Harry C. Marks described what the Google Now dream would be. We're tantalizingly close, but it's still far away. How frustrating to see the future, to reach out and touch it, only to smash your hand on its glass case.

  1. Three-quarters baked, certainly, to repeat a joke I made before.