It seems innocent at first: Fire up the search app on a new Android phone, and the interface asks if you’d like to activate Google Now. “Sure,” you think, “Google already has my calendar, location, and contacts; what’s one more thing?” Here’s what: Google Now draws a distinct technological line. On the side you’re on now, you tell your devices what you want to do. On the far side, the devices do the telling. Google Now is waiting for you over there. It’s the first virtual assistant that truly anticipates your needs. All you have to do is opt in.
Google Now runs in the background of the latest Android operating system (Jelly Bean 4.1) and quietly keeps track of searches, calendar events, locations, and travel patterns. It then synthesizes all that info and alerts you—either through notifications in the menu bar or cards on the search screen—of transit alerts for your commute, box scores for your favorite sports team, nearby watering holes, and more. You can assume it will someday suggest a lot more.
Voice interfaces like Siri seem outdated by comparison. With Google Now, you don’t pull the phone out when an idea occurs to you. You pull it out when an idea occurs to it.