It’s clear that Google Now is at the heart of Android’s future, with products like Android Wear and the Google Now Launcher rolling out of the Googleplex. Have you ever really looked closely at the cards Google Now shows you, though? There might be a lot of junk in there that you’re just mindlessly swiping away, all the while unaware of the features you’re missing out on. It’s time to stop leaving functionality on the table—let’s get Google Now trained to show better, more relevant cards.
Give Google your details
The first step is learning to love the Google, or if not loving then at least trusting it enough to hand over your location and preferences. To have Google Now be even marginally useful, you’ll need location services turned on in the system settings. In addition, you should hit the preferences for Google Now (denoted by the wand button at the bottom of the card list) and add your home and work addresses.
These tweaks will make sure the phone alerts you to traffic snarls, inclimate weather, and generally helps you plan ahead for your daily commute. Make sure to tell Google Now how you get around (driving, bike, etc.) so it can offer the right cards, like the mega-awesome parking location card.
While you’re in the preferences, you should go down the list and add in the various things for which you’re interested in seeing cards. Maybe you’re a fan of a particular sports team, or you bought a foolishly large number of shares in a particular company. Google Now can make sure you know what’s going on in either circumstance—it just needs to know you’re interested.
The TV settings are a good place to explore as well. You can set your TV provider (cable, satellite, or over-the-air), but also your preferred streaming providers. Fill in this data and you’ll get cards for video content from TV, as well as Netflix, Hulu, and whichever other sources you’ve chosen. Google Now can guess at some of your interests based on search history, but as we’ll see shortly, it’s not very good at it. You’re better off telling it the basics.
Feed Google the right data
To make Google Now more useful, the general rule of thumb for email confirmations is, “yes always.” Google Now can extract information like package shipping status, dining reservations, and airline tickets. There is usually an option to have this information delivered to your inbox, but it doesn’t actually need to be your email. If, for example, your significant other has booked plane tickets or ordered something online, have them forward the email to you. All Google Now needs is the text and confirmation numbers and it can figure out the rest. The original recipient’s address doesn’t figure in at all.
Location is a big deal to Google Now, as you have probably gathered. It works best when it knows not only where you are, but where you are going to be. One of the best features of Google Now is that it can look at traffic in real time and tell you when you need to leave to get to work or an appointment. Google Now probably knows where you work, but everything else is up to you. When you add a new appointment on Google Calendar, there’s an often underused field for location. Don’t just enter some vague nonsense that will be enough to remind you when the appointment comes up, it needs to mean something to Google too. If Google has the actual address in the location field, you get the departure time and traffic warnings just like you would for your daily commute.
It’s not as hard to do this as it once was—the official Google Calendar app got an update a few months ago that added automatic search to the location field. Just start typing the address or name of the location, and Google will offer suggestions. Sure, it means a few extra button taps, but then you’ll have Google Now on your side when the time comes.
You’re probably familiar at this point with Google Now’s ability to give you info about your commute, but it can also tell you about other people’s commutes if they decide to share them. Sharing your commute is an extension of Google+ location sharing. You can enable it by having the other party go into the Google+ location menu and add you to the “Pinpoint location” group. Commute sharing also needs to be turned on in Google Now settings under Accounts and Privacy.
On your own device, find the commute update option under your preferences (probably crammed down in the Everything Else group) and make sure it’s set to “Yes.” Google Now will generate a card each time that person starts their daily commute home and when they arrive if you’re not there. It should also drop a notification into the status bar for this one.
Stay on top of those cards
Sometimes Google Now correctly guesses what sort of web links you might want to see, but most of the time they’re lame. If you search for a product one time, Google Now might start showing you cards. End up on a particular website once or twice, and suddenly you must be interested in all the updates to that site. The first step to dealing with this is telling Google Now about yourself, but you also need to deal with those poorly-suggested cards.
Each card has a small three-dot button in the corner, which can be used to hide or reinforce it. It will say “Are you interested in [this thing]?” To which you can say yes or no. Answer in the negative and you won’t get cards on that topic anymore. Say “yes” and Google Now will continue offering links related to it. Simply swiping unwanted cards away doesn’t affect preferences.
If you give Google Now the information it needs and occasionally prune the incorrect suggestions, you’ll find those cards get much more useful. This feature is only going to become more important on Android, so you’d better learn to embrace it.