I’m unofficially alpha testing Google Now!

I hope they are doing some more alpha testing at the old Googleplex. They have a lot of work to do.

Google Now is supposed to be a one stop of all things “now” in your life. For example, you are about  to leave work and you get a handy alert on the traffic conditions on the way home. Great, right?

It’s also supposed to be handy for sports scores, stock quotes, nearby events and places, etc. Search for something interesting, possibly get an update on it. Get an e-mail about something, possibly get an update on it.

All of these are shown in a stream of “cards.”

I decided to forgive a ton of privacy concerns to test out this fancy thing. Man do you give up a lot, like having it keep a detailed location history and search history–stuff I used to have turned off. Previously, having Google keep a detailed record of all my online and mobile activity gave no value in return. The latter hasn’t changed much.

I say “alpha” testing because that’s were it is at this point. Truthfully, it’s really not at a point that it should have been released to the public.

Here are my random observations.

Battery Life:
Since it requires GPS and Wifi (for more accurate GPS) on all of the time, and since it is constantly checking position, my battery life has been cut in more than half. Not good!

Sports Scores:
I’m not sure how it determines how long to show previous scores vs. when in advance it shows upcoming games. There is no setting to customize… It showed me the score of the Knicks vs. Rockets (12/17) game and didn’t show me there was an upcoming Knicks vs. Nets game (12/19) until the Nets game already started. I have the card to appear “before the game, during the game, and after the game.” There should be a check box to check off once you got the score so it won’t show anymore–then show the upcoming game instead. Same with football. The Bills vs. Seahawks game score was there for days. I was left feeling “I KNOW ALREADY!”

Stocks:
I assume the stock updates are taken from my Google Finance list. I’d like an option to see the whole list of stocks I’m tracking. I think I chose the right option “Card appears always” but I’m not sure how it determines which stocks to show and which to hide. Confusing.

Nearby Events:
Google may be only as good as the info that’s put in, because my nearby events are chock full of hockey games. Which would be nifty if the NHL WASN’T ON STRIKE! Some of the other suggestions are ok, but it desperately needs a mile radius setting. I’d like to see stuff on Long Island, and not so much in NYC if possible.

Weather:
One of the few useful things. A nice weather update and forecast.

Packages:
Very cool feature that recognizes shipment confirmation e-mails and lists them. However until you delete the e-mail, the card appears although they can be outdated. I’m seeing a “package shipped” card although the it was delivered already–because I haven’t deleted the e-mail yet. Sort of makes it unreliable…

Traffic to Home and Work:
This is probably the almost bestest feature. So close, yet so far. I get a handy status like “x minutes to work” with traffic info and a link to turn on navigation. This is great while drinking my morning cup of tea. I now know how long it will take me to get to work and if I need to leave earlier. Great, right?!?! NOPE! I’m sure I’m not the only one in the world who doesn’t go straight from home to work and from work to home. It should have options to put in some stops in-between, like my daily dropoff and pickup of my son at pre-school. That would be amazing! Instead of useless… Only time will tell if the “machine” will learn my habits and routes.

I debated setting a recurring morning and afternoon appointment in my calendar with the address of the pre-school in, but I don’t want to clutter my calendar.  Yet…

A REALLY useful card for me would be a time and navigation card (both separate and all together) for Home to Preschool, then Preschool to Work. For example “Time to Preschool: 15 minutes” “Time from Preschool to Work: 10 minutes” “Total travel time: 25 minutes.” I know that’s super complicated, but it would be super relevant.

Direction to places searched:
Another ALMOST! there feature. This one came as a surprise. On my computer, I looked for nearby Gap and Old Navy stores. I step out at lunch to go to the Gap, check my phone, and there is a handy navigation card to… Old Navy! Man that was close. It would have been real handy if it picked the right store I ultimately decided to go to. Again, no setting to help it/adjust it in the future. I’m not sure how or why it chose one place over the other.

Directions to appointment in calendar:
This one actually worked out pretty well. If there is an upcoming appointment in my calendar with an address in it, a card will appear with the appointment time and the time it will take to travel.

Upcoming appointments:
Even without an address, seeing upcoming appointment cards is pretty handy.

Bug:
Navigation is an important feature for me. Especially on my trip home from picking up my son at daycare since the route is subject to traffic jams. I assume the same “work/home” thing that renders the Google Now feature useless for me is causing this bug. When I get out of daycare, I fire up navigation, only to be given directions from my work to home instead of my current location (a good 5 miles from my office). The actual location doesn’t update and work itself out. This requires me to close out of navigation and start it again. It happened more than a few times, so it has to be a bug. This costs me about 3-4 first world problem minutes a day!

What it needs:

  • Google Tasks integration.
  • More routes/stops other than work and home.
  • More flexible settings for stocks and sports.
  • More flexible settings for nearby events (e.g. mile radius, types of events)
  • Bug fix to navigation.

That’s all for now. More of an unreliable novelty than something anywhere useful at this point. I’ll update post the more I play and learn.

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