How Will Google Now Get Smarter in 2016?

Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images

Wondering what’s up next for the favorite digital assistant of Android users everywhere? Google Now is likely to get a lot smarter in 2016, as the company simultaneously moves in new directions and finishes projects that it began in 2015. Mark Bergen reports for Re/code that 2015 was the year of Google’s pivot to mobile, where the bulk of its searches now occur. A key piece to the execution of that shift is Google Now, the company’s intelligent personal assistant, which in 2015 added integrations with more than 100 apps, added a feature called Now on Tap, and otherwise stepped up its competition with rivaling products from Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and a number of young startups.

Using Google Now, and most of the assistants that compete with it, is a trade-off for users, since to get the most out of the product, you have to give Google access to information like your email messages, your location, your calendar, your search history, and the places you travel. To shake off what Bergen characterizes as Google Now’s “reputation for creepiness,” Google has added dozens of new functions, pulling in data from apps like Airbnb, Lyft, and Spotify, and surfacing content from them at the opportune moment. Google Now’s app integrations currently total 110.

Bergen considers the effort to place apps deeper into Google’s assistant as a “left flank into Google’s strategy to index the world of mobile apps,” offset by the logical right flank of Now on Tap, which sees “Google inserting itself into apps.” With the latest version of Android, smartphone owners can summon Google’s knowledge graph within other apps just by touching a button. “If it catches on,” Bergen projects, “it could solve a fundamental issue for Google — that it is relied upon less and less on phones.” To do that, Google Now is going to need to get a lot smarter, and it should start doing that in 2016.

Google Now currently depends on location, surfacing information and suggestions based on where you are. In 2016, Google Now is likely to add more integrations, delivering more apps and app content based on the other ways that you use your phone. Bergen reports that another area where Google Now should expand in 2016 is the platforms where the assistant is available. He notes that the team behind Google Now will want to expand beyond Android, which will be a unique challenge as Apple champions Siri, Microsoft advances Cortana, and Facebook rolls out M in its Messenger app.

Alistair Barr recently reported for The Wall Street Journal that Google is planning a newer, smarter messaging app than past attempts like Hangouts and Messenger, one that competes directly with Facebook Messenger and the M personal assistant. The service will integrate “chatbots, software programs that answer questions inside a messaging app,” and users will be able to text their friends or make inquiries to a chatbot, which will “scour the Web and other sources for information to answer a question.”

In 2016, Google will also try to carve out a space for Google Now on platforms beyond the smartphone, like the smart home and the connected car. Google’s biggest rival in that arena may be Apple, which has its own software hubs for the smart home and the connected car, or Amazon, with its Echo smart home hub. Bergen identifies other companies that will likely offer strong competition to Google as it expands Google Now, like startups SoundHound and MindMeld, which are moving onto the artificial intelligence frontier and want to both outsmart and circumvent established tech giants.

The partnership deals that the companies behind personal assistant technology are able to strike will likely influence which assistants pull ahead. Bergen points out that MindMeld, which creates speech interaction tools for developers, recently made a deal with Spotify, which also partners with Google Now. Google Now users can conduct voice searches via Spotify, but MindMeld chief executive Tim Tuttle told Re/code that its deal with Spotify “allows the streaming app to better tailor its voice experiences without moving through a looming middle man.” On Spotify’s part, partnering with MindMeld instead of Google enables it to avoid giving its data away to Google.

Barr reported for the Journal that Google veteran Nick Fox, who has been working on the company’s new service for at least a year, unsuccessfully offered to buy 200 Labs, a startup that builds chatbots and developed a marketplace for chatbots on Telegram, a messaging app that offers hundreds of chatbots, each devoted to subjects like the weather, news, or dating. 200 Labs is currently working on technology that will choose the best chatbot to respond to a request. Barr reports that Google is pursuing a similar goal with its own messaging service.

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