Saturday, June 1, 2013

Now Google Now

For iPhone people:  Google Now will be the one of the next reasons Apple sues Google.  Think Siri with a less creepy name.  It's really an enhancement off the search app, with panels of dynamic content coordinated with where you are, what time of day it is, and your search history.  You can talk to it.  You can use it on your iPhone.

Something happened to me one morning this week that shocked me: again, Google is making my phone do exactly what I want it to do de novo, i.e., without prior configuration.  For example, on this particular morning, I wanted my phone to tell me if I had time to stop and get some coffee and still get to work in time

As I was walking to the subway to go to work, leaving home a bit later than I had planned, I checked Google Now for my commute time.  It told me that I will arrive at work in 37 minutes (my meeting starts in 40). It further told me that the B train I will board will depart from the platform at my stop in 10 minutes.

So, I have time to get a coffee?  Hmm.  Seems so.  I decided to see if I could trust all this.

I got the coffee, the train arrived one minute late, and I arrived at work one minute ahead of the predicted schedule.  Without this service, I would have skipped getting the coffee, waiting impatiently on the subway platform while it gradually is revealed to me that I actually did have time to get coffee.  I would have been concerned on the entire trip whether or not I was going to be late, rehearsing what I would say if I was late, etc etc.

With Google Now, I knew once the B train showed up on time that I wold probably get to work on time.  I had my coffee.  Things were pretty chill.

A couple of days later, I was in the car driving to meet a friend at the airport, I pushed the mic button and said "Delta 5856."  A few seconds later the phone spoke back to me "Delta flight 5856 from Savannah, Georgia, USA will arrive at New York La Guardia Terminal C at 9:01am, 13 minutes ahead of schedule, 17 minutes from now."  

That was exactly what I wanted to know.  Google Wow.

Peripheral to my pleasant discovery of the awesomeness of Google Now is my realization that my "expertise" in riding the NYC Subway system blinded me to an important feature of the New York City Subway system.  The trains are on a public schedule.  They have open programming API's to the schedule database. They also are pretty much on schedule.

Thanks to Google Now, when I am walking towards the subway I just say "B train" to Google Now and it displays a schedule of the next three or so trains arriving at the stop to which I am physically closest.  When I walk down to the platform, I know I have a 7 minute wait, or whatever.  That's very helpful.  Very helpful.

Previously, I just regarded to subways as a haphazard and random parade of trains going by, the frequency being a function of traffic and motorman expertise.  That's actually not the case.  They aren't perfectly on schedule, but they're good enough.  

Further more, wiith Google Now I can find out easily how long it is going take me to get somewhere using the Subway system.  The Navigation system in Google Maps accounts for transfer times and all that, so when you ask about travel time from my place in Harlem to a friend's corner bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (not a simple trip) it is within a few minutes of being right.  That's really useful.