Google Now's intelligent push shows Siri the future

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Google Now's intelligent push shows Siri the future
Last week, Google unveiled its upcoming Android update 4.1, Jelly Bean, which added a number of improvements to the system, but none caught our eye more than Google Now, which is the product we have been anticipating for a couple of years now, and one that we knew would finally come soon back when Google announced it would unify its privacy policies. Many people jumped on the chance to stack up Google Now with the closest competition: Apple's personal assistant, Siri. The trouble with that comparison is that although Google Now is built on its Voice Search app, and includes a robo-voice to give you answers, the real power of the platform has nothing to do with the ask-and-answer dynamic that defines the Siri experience (and all other voice command experiences so far.) The real power of Google Now lies with intelligent push. 

Differing aims

Siri is marketed as a personal assistant because of hooks into your calendar and such, but more than anything else, Siri is a voice-powered search platform. If you want the weather, you ask. Sports? Just ask Siri. Directions? Ibid. Apple has done this for a variety of reasons. Firstly, speech recognition finally hit a point where it was possible to create software that understands natural language, and can turn it into an accurate response. We no longer need to worry about speaking in keywords, we can just say what is natural, and the software takes care of the rest. 

Secondly, Siri makes your iPhone seem like a better device. Regardless of how much you use Siri, the idea that your iPhone is a personal assistant that can answer any question or perform certain tasks is a powerful one. Siri has become the personification of the iPhone; it has given users a way to emotionally connect with their devices. This in turn leads to more brand loyalty and more iPhone sales. 

Lastly, Apple made Siri because Apple didn't have the resources or understanding of the search business to make the next step in the chain (which - spoiler alert - could very well be Google Now.) Not to mention, Apple doesn't like to creep out its users by showing off just how much it knows about you.

Google has been a search company for around 16 years now (although it has only been known as Google for 14 years), so if there is one thing we'd expect the company to understand, it's search. Google sees more than most that search is not the way forward, and Google is not shy about creeping you out. Search will always be useful, but useful doesn't mean necessary. It's necessary to use search to find answers to questions, or learn something new. It's not necessary to use search to perform daily tasks, or find things that should be at your fingertips anyway. For these things, you shouldn't need to search, it should simply be given to you, even if that presentation of knowledge makes you uneasy, because the real aim of Google Now is to intelligently push relevant information to you, without you asking for it. 

Apple has your location data and calendar, and is building a search history with Siri, but in general, Apple just doesn't have as much personal data on you as is needed to provide intelligent push. But, make no mistake, Apple is definitely working towards it. On the other hand, Google has your search history, your e-mail, calendar, location data (plus place reviews), purchase history, and more and more +1 info. Google knows what you like, where you like it, and when. And, now that Google can put that all together because of the new unified privacy policy, we get the vast potential of Google Now. 

Intelligent Push

The basic difference is this: Siri demands that you ask for something before you can get it. Google Now intends to learn what you want, and understand when you want it, and have it ready for you. Siri is always an active interaction. Google Now wants to bring the information to you without being asked. Of course, we have to put in words like "intends" and "wants to" because we haven't seen enough of Google Now to know if it will work as planned, but the idea remains the same. 

Google knows better than most that active searching is a thing that is dying, because it can often lead people away from the answers they need. This is why Google recently added the knowledge bar results to searches, and various answer results for word definitions, sports scores, movie times, and flight info to results pages. Google may have begun life as a search company, but now it sees that it has to be a knowledge provider instead, and a big part of that is in learning to predict what information a person may want. 

With that in mind, we're getting Google Now, which will give you the weather every day, as well as appointment reminders, travel information, sports, and place info, all without requiring that you ask for that info, at least after the initial learning period of course. The possibilities of a system like this can easily lead to a much more useful "personal assistant" than what Siri can currently offer if for no other reason than because the information is passively presented to you. If nothing else, this covers Google's obsession with speed, because it is always faster to have information given to you, than to have to seek it out first. 

The one trouble that may occur with Google Now is the same that Siri would face if it were to take the same route (which we fully expect to happen): the learning process requires use. 

Learning to be intelligent

By this, we mean that in order for Google Now to learn that you have work at a certain time, or appointments, it helps if you use Google Calendar to arrange your schedule. Google can't know about an upcoming flight you need to take unless you either A) put it in your calendar, or B) do a Google search for that flight. This sort of thing is basic and completely understandable for a service like this. Where it gets odd is in gathering other information. For example, if you don't use Google Maps to get your travel information, Google Now won't know your preferred method of travel. If you use an app to get your public transport info, it becomes much harder for Google to learn that you prefer taking the bus. Perhaps that sort of thing could be learned by matching your location data to bus/train routes and times, which we're hoping is the case, but it's unclear right now. Similarly, if you use an app to get your sports scores, Google won't learn that you're an Oklahoma City Thunder fan, and won't know to give you those scores and news when you pull up Google Now. 

Of course, we know that the Google and Apple engineers are much smarter and spend far more time thinking about these issues, so we expect to see something come around to fix these potential problems, but people are already a bit nervous about companies like Google collecting data, regardless of how useful it may prove to be. Theoretically, beyond Apple and Google knowing what apps you have installed on your mobile device, they know how often you use an app. So, if Google sees that you open the NBA Game Time app all the time, chances are that you're interested in the NBA, and if the only Google search you've done on the topic is for the OKC Thunder or "James Harden's beard" (as you can see in the pic on the right, it is glorious), Google will assume you want the scores for any OKC game, which may or may not be correct. 

No doubt there will be more in-depth controls coming, which should allow you to simply give Google the relevant info one time, and then the info will be pushed accordingly, but as always, a passive learning experience will always be better. Google provides the best search results because it learned from our usage rather than being told what we want. The same applies here, because no matter how quick and easy, people hate taking time to do things.

Google vs Apple (vs Microsoft)

As we said, it is pretty much a certainty that Apple is also working on ways to passively provide relevant information to you. Apple would love to give you restaurant or shopping recommendations based on where you are and what you like, but Apple still needs to build up the database on what you like. Google Now is simply another point along the well-worn path in this dance between the two companies. Google will be the first out of the gate with a product (Voice Search, dictation, intelligent push), and Apple will bring its own version when it feels like it can provide a sufficiently "Appley" product. The same will be the case with Google Now, and intelligent push. There is almost no doubt that eventually Apple will launch a product that provides a similar service, the real question is how much Google Now will be able to grow before that happens. 

Since Apple has already announced iOS 6, the earliest we'd see Siri begin to provide intelligent push data would be next fall with iOS 7. Of course, given the update bottlenecks in the Android ecosystem, there's no guarantee that Google Now (which is only available on Jelly Bean) will even be on the majority of Android handsets by then. No doubt, Google Now's feature set will grow between now and then. We'd expect more location-based shopping suggestions (i.e. Google Now knows you've been searching for sneakers, and points you to a store nearby that's having a sale), or things-to-do suggestions (providing movie times for a film you've +1ed). Google Now certainly has room to grow, especially given that it seems like the product only uses location, web history, and calendar data right now .Google has far more data than that to draw upon, and is gathering more every day.

Apple may not have all of the data yet, but Apple Maps will go a long way to give the company place data, and preferences, and the more Siri can do, the more search info the company will get from the software. All of that will fold back into any intelligent push system. This will still leave major gaps in Apple's understanding of who you are and what you like. Even Microsoft, which has no such system anywhere on the horizon could have a better path to giving relevant information by leveraging its strategic partnership with Facebook (assuming it could convince users to opt-in to such information sharing). Theoretically, this means that if you're a Google+ user, Google Now will eventually be even more valuable to you. 

Regardless, active search is likely to lose focus as the main way of getting information, and will in many ways be supplanted by passive intelligent push of information. Google Now is the proof of that, and because of it, Google Now should become a far more useful platform than any simple voice search/voice command/personal assistant. It doesn't surprise us in the least that Google is the first out of the gate with this product, but Apple won't be too far behind. We fully expect to see Siri evolve as well, although Apple will need more outside help to make it work as well as Google should be able to. 



1. Jay_F

Posts: 236; Member since: Nov 29, 2011

Uh oh, they are attempting to become self-aware. Can't wait to see how it operates.

29. Otterbox

Posts: 71; Member since: Jun 27, 2012

Google forcing more controversial changes.

30. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

You are safe - as Michael comments, Apple won't release something until they can make it Appley. Siri will remain more gimmicky than truly useful for probably around 2 more years, when iOS 7 is released.


Posts: 2315; Member since: Jul 30, 2011

Good point Doug! (But, more like iOS I must be missing something in the article, Michael states, "Siri is marketed as a personal assistant because of hooks into your calendar and such, but more than anything else, Siri is a voice-powered search platform;" I thought, based on the commercials, Siri was someone to talk to in desparate iSolation.

40. taz89

Posts: 2014; Member since: May 03, 2011

how are they forcing anyone? its an opt in service

42. EclipseGSX

Posts: 1777; Member since: Oct 18, 2011

You can CHOOSE not to use it therefore not FORCING anything. Silly otter using your tummy as a table

2. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Great article, Michael. As you stated, the challenge for Google will be to get the universe of Android handsets migrated to JB. That will involve a delay that may give Apple time to catch up to Google in the search knowledge archive. However, Maps is still not fully baked. And, and, and. Net-net, life in technology land is never boring....

7. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

well google developed a tool so compnies can speed up updates, will see how that works out

17. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Yes, I personally have my fingers crossed waiting for JB on my RAZR. If the rumors are true and JB is going to be released for the G-Nexus in approx. 10-ish days, it would seem to argue for a similar rapid release on the RAZR. The stars certainly would seem to be in alignment - Moto is owned by Google, the RAZR and G-Nexus are distributed on the same carrier (VZW) in the U.S. I am cautiously hopeful....

19. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

The HSPA+ GNex will get JB in 10-ish days, not the Verizon Nexus. Verizon will delay that for sure

23. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Arrrgh :-( Although I didn't expect a JB upgrade for my RAZR in 10 days. 3 months would be a fabulous outcome. Although realistically, I have higher expectations that a RAZR HD would come with JB out-of-the-box before my RAZR gets a JB upgrade.

32. readingthissh1t

Posts: 303; Member since: Jul 20, 2011

rooted running now, i feel sorry for other verizon peeps

3. Synack

Posts: 688; Member since: Jul 05, 2011

Not on JB? Buy a Nexus. Problem solved...... forever.

18. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Unless you are half-way through a 2 year contract....

33. iamcc

Posts: 1319; Member since: Oct 07, 2011

Its only $350 off contract...

4. Scott_H

Posts: 167; Member since: Oct 28, 2011

Great read Michael. This also has a direct bearing on the current patent giving Samsung so much trouble, the '604 universal search patent. Why? Because intelligent push is based entirely on information contained on an external server. The '604 patent seems like an obvious invention, but even if it's upheld it's basically guarding the past rather than the way forward.

5. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

And that's exactly why I hate patent law. By default, it protects the past rather than fostering innovation, which of course was the original intent.

16. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

Out of curiosity Michael, how would you encourage innovation in the absence of patents? One argument for patents is that the ability to exercise exclusive control over an invention promotes investment in research and development, which tends to result in patentable inventions. That certainly seems to be a motivating factor in whether a pharmaceutical company drops $5+ billion into developing a new drug.

20. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

Admittedly, I should have specified software patents. Patent law does work relatively well in some areas, like pharmaceuticals where patents push development, but have time limits to lead to cheaper generics eventually. My issue is that patents were designed to force inventors to publish their work, so everyone could see how it was done and build on it, not to protect investment and creations. Given that spirit, in software the easiest path away from patents would be with open source. Show your work, have functional software, not just descriptions of theoretical systems, and above all else, keep in mind that this s**t isn't being "invented", it's being built on previous works, like art. I mean, let's just use some damn common sense every once in a while. Does it really benefit anyone to consider the idea of making data like phone numbers or addresses linkable as a patentable idea? Does it really spur innovation to say that only one company can make a digital latch (slide to unlock)? Let's be more discerning with these things. At the very least, let's crowd-source patent reviews to help out the obviously overworked USPTO.

24. Droid_X_Doug

Posts: 5993; Member since: Dec 22, 2010

You have some totally valid points about software patents that are at best questionable as regards innovation (I would argue that a scrolling bounce at the top/bottom of a window is not patentable, but that is only my opinion). A number of thought-leaders in the patent prosecution space have advocated for crowd-sourcing reviews. Crowd-sourcing reviews can be a way to help examiners who may or may not understand the subject matter being disclosed in a particular application. Unfortunately, the PTO doesn't seem to be one of the subscribers to the crowd-sourcing concept.

25. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

Here is one of the only areas I wish we would see some government intervention. Have a Congressional hearing on the whole tech patent matter. Have Google, Apple, MS, and the rest all come in, sit down, and hash out "common" features that can not be sued over.. such as universal search, contacts, grids,slide to unlock, rectangles, and more That way the base pieces of a smartphone are off limits and the more OS specific pieces such as how Siri works or GooNow works can stay protected.

26. firelightx

Posts: 71; Member since: Oct 13, 2011

such as universal search, contacts, grids,slide to unlock, rectangles, and more First off, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Some government intervention is necessary. However... a pow-wow between the heavy hitters will go absolutely nowhere. Why? Simply put... every single patented idea you just mentioned? Owned by Apple. Apple stands nothing to gain and everything to lose by sitting down in such a meeting. They are given only two choices: concede defeat and stop suing everyone, or fight tooth and nail against it and continue suing. Which do you think they'll choose? No, what needs to happen is what XDA is pushing for. There need to be a united force against Apple, comprised of every major android manufacturer, perhaps pooled together by Google's efforts, and they need to bring the unholy legal smackdown upon Apple. If Apple can get the Nexus banned in the U.S. for slide to unlock, surely one of the dozen some odd Android manufacturers has a patent that can bury the iPhone for a little while. And unlike Samsung, who has a hundred different models across a hundred different carriers... the iPhone is just 1 phone. And America is it's best selling market. Get it banned here... and watch Apple's stock just plummet like a rock.

41. MartyK

Posts: 1043; Member since: Apr 11, 2012

I Agree 100% with you FIRE!, bring the heat!

44. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

while that would be a hillarious and completely needed ironic twist of fate, if that was going to happen, i think it would have happened by now since both HTC and Samsung have run into shipment issues due to Apples BS. Also, that does nothing to solve the problem which is how patents are awarded in the first place for tech. Having them "hash it out" would be the nice step before full on government intervention declaring everything FRAND and overhauling the patent system so generic crap and paper napkin drawings can no longer be qualified for patents. Of course Apple has the most to lose. They are by far the biggest patent troll in the industry. They are doing it legally, though, so the problem isnt with them (they are just abusive assholes), the problem is with the system.

35. roscuthiii

Posts: 2383; Member since: Jul 18, 2010

Michael Heller for Secretary of the USPTO! 2012! (Or Judge Posner)

8. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

i have a feeling will see '604 disabled by the end of the battle or better...

6. nnaatthhaannx2

Posts: 820; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

I always love reading with MIchael writes. If you are reading this, I have a (few) question(s): do you actually know or contact other PA writers/editors/whatever you guys call yourselves? Do you guys just work at home, or do you have a PA office?

9. protozeloz

Posts: 5396; Member since: Sep 16, 2010

you can I have jJV on twitter and michael on G+

14. nnaatthhaannx2

Posts: 820; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

Sorry... I don't quite understand your comment.

21. MichaelHeller

Posts: 2734; Member since: May 26, 2011

I think he misunderstood your question. He thought you were asking how to get to know/contact us (which would be via Twitter for John V or G+ for me).

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit for samples and additional information.