Last week, Microsoft updated its search engine, Bing, with an update that allows third party applications access to the information architecture behind the front end. This is similar to how Google Now on Tap is purported to work, but crucially Microsoft released the feature before Google’s updated Now. Furthermore, Microsoft released the update to the Bing search engine on the Android platform first, despite now being the default search engine for the Apple iPhone. The idea behind the update is that if you have seen something interesting in a mobile application (for example, a location captured from the Facebook application) you can feed this into Bing and it will search for it. Google Now on Tap is reckoned to be something of a breakthrough feature for Google Now, premiered with Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
Within Google, now a part of Alphabet, both Google Now and the team behind it have undergone considerable changes. Many of the original Google Now team have left Google and some have cited frustrations with the project. One of the reasons of their frustration is because the Google Now project was not considered to be a priority by Google, which was more interested in Google Search and Android. Sundar Pichai, the soon-to-be Chief Executive Officer of Google, did not give Google Now as much support as Larry Page. We have learned that Google Now was originally a project put together by a number of the Google Maps team as a side project; software developers had established a means of a clickless application pulling in data from a device including email, calendar appointments, weather and location data, and providing this to the user via the notification system – with transit and transportation data as the first task of Google Now. Google Now quickly became Larry Page’s darling and was pushed through Google, eventually being released alongside Android 4.1 Jelly Bean in 2012. Unfortunately, as Larry Page started taking more of a back seat in Google, so did Google Now when it came to project development. In 2014, Google Search’s Senior Vice President requested that Google Now be adopted within the Search business unit rather than the Android business unit. Sundar agreed to this change and now Google Now is controlled within the Google Search business. This decision was partially because the Google Search application remains at the very core of Google’s business and has been declining on a cost-per-click basis for some time now – thanks to on-device application use. Google Now’s refocus into working with third party applications is seen as a means of reversing this.
Apple, meanwhile, are working on their on-device “proactive assistant” technology: Google Now has more than a hundred million monthly users but only a very small number are on the iOS application. Apple has an opportunity to capture the iPhone market and persuade them that no other company has a proactive assistant on their smartphones. Microsoft does not lack a mobile platform for Bing’s new features, as it still sells Windows Phone devices and the Bing application is available for other platforms. Google may need to pull a rabbit out of a hat with Google Now on Tap if it is to stay ahead of the game. Google Now’s product lead, Aparna Chennapragada, must roll out Now without the support of many of the original software engineers and persuade third party developers to get onboard.