Google Now comes to the iPhone, iPad


This Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, photo shows a Google sign at the company's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
April 29, 2013

Google has brought Google Now, its prime Siri competitor, to the iPhone and iPad by incorporating the feature into its search app for iOS devices.

The feature, which has been available to Android users for months, pulls together information from across Google services to give users a digital starting point. The company said Monday that the service is now open to iPhone and iPad users through the company’s free Google Search app.

To use Google Now, users will have to sign into their Google accounts to enable the app to access their personal information.

For those concerned about privacy, signing into the Google Search app gives the company information on how users surf the Web, and Google Now follows users’ search and location information to act as an assistant. For example, the function might determine the usual length of the user’s morning commute.

Users decide whether to give Google Now access their location when they first sign into the app. Those who agree to location reporting have the option to turn it off at any time through the privacy menu. Enabling location reporting gives Google permission to access and store data about users’ whereabouts both while the app is in use and when it’s not. Location history is not publicly visible and can be erased by heading to the privacy setting menu on your Google account and clicking “Location history.”

The search app’s privacy menu also enables users to clear search histories and cookies. The app users can also opt out of “on-device history,” which is turned on by default and allows the company to record “new searches and page visits” made from a device.

With all the data collection options enabled, the company can use information about where you are, what you like and what you follow to present you with a package of information designed to assist you during your daily activities.

The feature offers many of the same functions as Apple’s Siri program, including the ability to ask questions such as, “Do I need an umbrella this weekend?” to get a local forecast. But Google Now also uses personal information to customize how it responds. If you have a flight to catch that’s listed on your Google Calendar, for example, the program will review traffic patterns to alert you when to leave for the airport, whether the plane is on time and even when there’s bad weather on the way.

The service also follows breaking news alerts and scores from users’ favorite sports teams. An it hooks into a user’s e-mail account to alert on things such as when ordered packages may show up on the doorstep.

Information is displayed on a series of cards, which users can swipe off-screen when the information is no longer relevant. New cards come up based on users’ Google Account activities or their location. For example, tourists may want to use Google Now for recommendations for where to grab a bite to eat or to take a particularly nice photo. Google Now will work with the app’s voice search function, so users won’t necessarily have to type their queries to get the information they want.

Google Now was one of the main focuses of company chief executive Larry Page’s remarks during the firm’s earnings call last week. Page said that the purpose of Google Now is to “get you the right information, at just the right time.”

The feature had found fans among Android users. The integration with Gmail is particularly attractive to some, as is the easy access to Google Calendar.

But what’s not clear is whether Apple users accustomed to having Siri on hand will be willing to take the few extra seconds to launch Google’s app rather than holding down the home button to talk to the personal assistant already baked in to their iPhones.

Ultimately, that choice probably comes down to how iPhone and iPad owners are mixing Google and Apple’s ecosystems and how crucial they find Google Mail, Maps, Search and other services to be.

Related stories:

VentureBeat: Google Now, Google’s effort to automate your life, may be coming to Chrome

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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