Google Now, Google’s eponymous voice assistant for Android tablets and smartphones, is going the way of the dodo … or, at least fading gracefully into the software background. Android Police reports the newest beta release of the Google Search app, version 6.5.26, removes all visible references to the service formerly known as Google Now.
The most obvious change in nomenclature pertains to Now on Tap, Google’s AI-powered feature that surfaces info like movie showtimes, flight information, language translations, and more by snapping a picture of your smartphone’s display. It has gained the generic, self-descriptive moniker ‘Screen search’ and Now on Tap appears to have been removed from every relevant settings screen within the Google Search app.
Now on Tap is not the only term the new app has sandblasted. Google Now cards, the geometric tidbits within the Google Now interface that recommended nearby attractions, news items of interest, and upcoming events, now go by a different title: Feed.
The writing was on the wall. Over the past few months, Google’s favored the ‘Assistance’ brand as a catchall term for AI-powered features. In the Google Photos app for iOS and Android, an ‘assistant’ notifies when photos are being processed, when your device is running low on internal storage, and whether your phone is waiting to charge before uploading. According to Android Police, Google’s internally testing a version of its Inbox email client that will automatically organize and surface tasks.
Encouraging the rebranding along could be a slow uptake. Now on Tap was plagued by inaccuracies and launched in a relatively bare-bones state — short of scanning your screen, there was not much Now on Tap could do. Subsequent updates rejiggered the feature’s focus on convenience: the newest iteration of Now on Tap features shortcuts to reminders, alarms, timers, navigation to saved locations like work and home.
But it is likely all preparation ahead of the launch of Google Assistant, the Mountain View, California-based company’s platform intended to unify Google’s disparate assistance apps. Google Assistant, at its core, will work much like Google Now, answering text and voice queries on command — ask it, “Did my team win?” and it will spit out the latest box scores for the sports you follow. But all the more impressive, it will consider personal preference and linguistic context in its responses, too — request movie tickets for a party of four and Assistant will only surface screenings at least four seats available. And it has a personality — Google worked with an ex-Pixar animator to ensure the Assistant “had character” and “showed vulnerability.”
The Google Assistant will permeate far more corners of Google’s hardware and software ecosystem than Google Now ever did. It will integrate tightly with Google’s upcoming Allo messaging app for Android and iOS, for one, offering both text replies to typed questions and Smart Replies, or machine learning-generated responses to emails and texts. And the Assistant is expected to form the core of Google’s forthcoming Home, standalone speaker-and-microphone hardware that will fling YouTube videos to a nearby Chromecast, set timers and alarms, track your flight information, keep tabs on your appointments, provide weather and traffic info, and more on verbal command.
Rumor has it Assistant’s tendrils will extend even further with the launch of Google’s flagship smartphones, reportedly the Pixel and Pixel XL. Leaked home screen software, Pixel Launcher, adopts a design that appears to provide quick, convenience access to the Google Assistant. And it packs a new interface, called Dashboard that seems primed to surface contextually relevant information of the sort currently served by Google Now.
Despite a splashy debut at Google’s I/O conference earlier this year, the Assistant has so far proven elusive. It has been suggested that Google’s ambitious AI effort will feature heavily at the search giant’s upcoming press conference on October 4. Digital Trends will be reporting live from Google’s campus then, so stay tuned.
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