Google Now fans have been hoping for a desktop version of the intelligent mobile personal assistant, and now ... well, it still isn't quite here. But something similar is coming to desktops, smartphones and tablets in the U.S. this week.
See also: Google Now Opens Up To iPhones, iPads
The company is rolling out a new update to its search engine that gives users "quick answers" to personal queries—for instance, when their next flight leaves, or when a package is due to arrive—made in the search bar. And if the info is in your Gmail, Google Calendar or Google+ accounts, the relevant answers pop up at the top of the search results.
The typed or spoken queries use natural language and cover common scenarios such as:
- Flight tracking: Type or say "Is my flight on time?" or "What's my gate number?" to see current or upcoming flights, their status and other details.
- Reservations: Input "my reservations" and it pulls up upcoming hotel or restaurant reservations and addresses. It also provides driving or transit directions to the destination with one tap.
- Purchases: Query “my purchases” and shopping orders spring up, so you can view available order and shipping information.
- Plans: Ask “What are my plans for tomorrow?” and any appointments or relevant combination of the above may appear.
- Photos: The feature can also search and display your Google+ images upon command. Just ask something like, “Show me my photos from Thailand” or “my photos of sunsets.”
In truth, all that information is already available to you, so the new service isn't providing access to anything you don't already have. But it does aim to make the Google search bar a convenient way for you to call up your own information in addition to the remaining entirety of online human knowledge.
According to Google, "We’ve been offering this kind of info—flights, reservations, appointments and more—for more than a year in Google Now. We’ve gotten great feedback on how convenient it is, especially when you’re on the go." Although there are similarities in the types of practical data this and Google Now provide (which, in both cases, is for one user account at a time—there's no multiple account support), the services are not quite the same.
Google Now anticipates the information users need, while the new feature relies on users proactively searching for specific info. Another distinction: The search-based service works in desktop browsers, as well as on tablets and smartphones. It works in any browser via text input, and via speech wherever Google search by voice is available—i.e., desktop Chrome, Google search mobile apps and the native Google search on Android.
The personal data Google serves up is secured via encrypted connections, the company says. Google conducted a limited field trial of the feature last year. Now it's ready for the public, so it's rolling out in the U.S. over next few days in U.S. English. No word yet on when it might come to other countries or languages.
If you're interested, you'll be able to take it for a spin soon and see if you find it handy. If not, don't fret—there's a handy kill switch. You can turn it off temporarily by clicking on the globe icon at the top of the search results page, or shut it off completely in the "Private results" section in the settings.