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Android Headliner: Google Now on Tap Leads the Personal Assistant War

January 26, 2016 - Written By Alexander Maxham

Back in June 2012 at Apple’s WWDC event in San Francisco, the company announced Siri, which debuted on the iPhone 4S that year. It marked the beginning of the personal assistants, and iOS users fell in love with Siri. However, Siri was far from perfect and it’s feature-set was pretty narrow. As the following year at Google I/O along with the announcement of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, Google would announce Google Now. When it was announced, Google Now appeared to be a bit to personal. As Google Now would read your Gmail to give you information before you search for it. This includes flight information, upcoming due dates for bills and much more. Since its launch, Google has continued to improve Google Now little by little. Microsoft came out in 2014 with Cortana, their own personal assistant. Ironically Cortana is available on more platforms than Siri or Google Now. Cortana works with Windows 8.1, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile, Xbox One, iOS and Android. While each of these personal assistants are different, there is one thing they all have in common, and that is their ability to assist you.

Personal assistants, primarily Siri and Google Now, began as ways to ask questions and get a response. For example, asking Google Now what the weather is like today. Or asking it how old Barack Obama is. Now, we are able to do things like turn off the lights in our home with Google Now or Siri, and even change the temperature in our home thanks to the integration of Nest and other smart thermostats. Personal assistants haven’t always been perfect, and they still aren’t, many would argue. But they are getting much more helpful after having companies like Google and Apple continuing to improve their personal assistants (as well as acquiring companies to help improve their functionality). There’s still quite a bit left to be done with both Siri and Google Now.

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In 2015, Google enhanced Google Now a bit more and introduced Google Now on Tap. Essentially what Google Now on Tap does is brings Google Now everywhere. For instance, if you are on a webpage and have never heard of a particular company before, you can long-press the home button and bring up Google Now on Tap which will give you all sorts of information for that company. Including their social media profiles, phone number and so much more. In fact, with their phone number being displayed there in Now on Tap, you can tap on the phone icon and immediately call them. Making it pretty convenient if you’re looking to call customer service. Google Now on Tap is currently only available for devices with Android 6.0 Marshmallow, and as of January 2016 only about 0.7% of Android devices are running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow or higher. So many users haven’t had the chance to use Google Now on Tap. While many that have used Now on Tap love it, it’s tough to say if that will be the popular opinion once more users get the chance to use Now on Tap.

Google Now has always been pretty darn good. Being able to give me updated information on my flights when I’m at the airport. Or when I’m in a foreign country and it telling me how to say different phrases in the local language, or showing the exchange rate for that country’s currency. Google Now is super helpful. And with Google Now on Tap it’s gotten even better. Being able to get information without leaving the web page or app that you are in is definitely useful. Just as Google Now has evolved, so will Google Now on Tap, to be more feature packed and include even more information right there overlaying on the display.

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Could Google Now on Tap be improved? Sure. Things like Now on Tap always have room for improvement, and I’d expect to see it improved with each iteration of Android, or even as quickly as whenever the Google app is updated – since Google Now is part of the search app that is in the Google Play Store. In fact, an improvement that Google added to Now on Tap with an app update was the ability to take a screenshot from Now on Tap and immediately be able to share it anywhere on the interwebs. Simply enter Google Now on Tap and then tap the share icon and you’ll see it take a screenshot and open the share menu. Pretty simple. It would be great to see Google Now on Tap get a bit faster when scanning the page. Even if it could scan the page in the background – although that could be overkill and also affect the performance of your device – so that when you open up Now on Tap you can quickly get the information you’re looking for.

One thing that would be nice to be added to a Google Now on Tap search would be the ability to see the site’s social media profiles there. For example, when I open a page on Android Headlines, I get all types of information about companies like Sprint, T-Mobile, OnePlus and many others. It includes their social media profiles – as mentioned above – but nothing about Android Headlines. It would be great to have a section talking about Android Headlines as well as ways to contact Android Headlines. Would definitely be helpful for anyone looking to learn more about a website, whether that be Android Headlines or any other.

Personal assistants like Google Now on Tap, Siri, Cortana and others aren’t going away anytime soon. As companies believe that personal assistants are something that everyone needs, and not just wants. With them getting better at various tasks, we could have our home screens overtaken by these personal assistants. So instead of unlocking your smartphone and seeing a bunch of apps or widgets on your home screen, you’ll see Google Now. Showing you the most used apps, as well as different cards for products you ordered that are shipping, flight information and so much more. Especially with Google Now knowing what we’ll want to use before we attempt to open the app we want. It’s a big reason that Google is collecting so much data about us. We’ve said before that Google Now could be our home screen in a few years if not sooner, and with Now on Tap, that’s truer than ever before.

While Google does collect a ton of our data, not just in Gmail, but also from searches and many of their other products, it has helped to make Google Now on Tap as useful as it is today. Additionally, collecting this information has helped improve Google Now. Including telling you when there is an accident on your route to work. Also telling you when you need to leave for the airport so you don’t miss your flight. Always important, especially since we don’t know how bad traffic can be on the way to the airport and actually at the airport. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing ads showing up in Google Now on Tap. Considering Google is still an ad company – roughly 95% of their revenue comes from ads – we’ll see them appearing in Google Now at some point in the future. Just as we did with Gmail for Android, while it did take about 5 years, the ads did come into the app. Google Now on Tap is a fantastic feature on Android, and if you aren’t already using it – and are on Android 6.0.x Marshmallow – you should definitely be giving it a go.