Mastering Google Now will turn your smartphone into an important ally in your fight against the excessive details and reminders overwhelming your digital life.
Google Now is a showcase of what machine learning can do, though it's not without its faults. You’ll find some awkward suggestions and cards that may not make sense, because it’s still all being driven by an algorithm. You have to tweak and nudge it from time to time, and of course make sure you’re sharing the necessary data, if you want to get great results.
But Google Now is getting getting better all the time. Check out our top tips, and let us know if there’s a favorite tweak or update you’ve discovered that you can’t live without.
Flip on all the right switches
To enable Google Now to do everything it can, you’ll make sure you have a couple of settings configured properly. Google Now lives inside the Google app, or just one swipe to the left of the home screen if you’re using the Google Now launcher.
Train Google Now by enabling location sharing and selecting topics you’re interested in. This way you will get cards about favorite sports teams, news topics, or places to visit based upon your location.
One overlooked tool is in Customize > Downloaded apps. I found this when switching phones recently. You may need to re-enable updates from certain cards and apps. Now that Google Now supports 70 new apps, there’s a lot of potential updates that can flow into your stream.
Google Now is your shopping aide
Next time you walk into a Target or head to a large mall, you may have a Google Now card waiting to help you out.
Some retailers have a dedicated card, which will take you to the mobile site that lists store savings. Or a mall directory may appear, which you can browse or search for a particular store.
You won’t get a push alert with such features, so you’ll just need to get into the habit of checking Google Now to see what cards are on tap.
Google Now keeps getting better at sports
We’ve highlighted Google Now’s sports features before. Google has added in more since then, adding in enough polish and detail so that you may forget about loading up ESPN. Games have additional stats and the cards have better color differentiation that makes them easy to spot amidst all the other cards in your stream.
You can also just search for a league and get that day’s scores. For example, type “MLB” and you can get a rundown of the day’s action. Touch a specific game for more details. If you want the play-by-play, Google Now will then kick you over to MLB’s live scores page in Chrome.
Get new album release notifications
Google Now will tip you off if there’s a new album release for an artist you’ve searched for. This is obviously going to be hit and miss. Just because you look up a band on Google doesn’t mean you want their latest release (there’s a reason “hate Googling” is a thing).
This has potential to give you a better music experience, however, if Google wants to press this further. Google could grant us more control over this by allowing you to set up alerts for specific artists. It would even be stronger if this would connect to Google Play Music, so Google Now could be on the lookout for news and releases from music you prefer to listen to.
Find gas stations and get traffic alerts
Next time there’s an accident that you should be aware of, Google may give you a heads-up in the form of a card in Google Now.
Of course you shouldn’t be looking at your phone while driving. But if you were to check your phone before taking off this card could save you some time. I’ve found the accident card is more likely to appear when visiting a larger, metropolitan area.
I’ve also only seen the gas card when on a road trip, an indication that Google Now is paying attention to my location to ping me with this alert. Make sure Google Now’s location settings are flipped on to enable this feature.
It’s time to pay the bills
Remembering the bills can be a pain. Google Now is here to help you out,; it spots those monthly notices in your Gmail.
The company billing you has to enable some code in their email in order for Google Now to pick it up, so don’t start ignoring your inbox yet when it comes to taking care of your obligations. This also is a case where I wish Google Now had a snooze button, so I could get the alert to return closer to the bill’s due date.
All your travel details in one spot
Google Now has always excelled at travel, but there’s even more since we last detailed its travel capabilities.
You now get information a few days before about the trip to your venue, which of course comes from hotel and other travel confirmation emails. It works splendidly for hotels and flights.
However, Google Now didn’t pick up a recent cruise booking. One workaround is to add events like this manually to your Google Calendar, then you should see the departure or other event you want as part of an Agenda card.
Google Now is always evolving
Google is able to push out such changes on the server side, so it doesn’t require an update through the Play Store to bring forth new changes. So the best way to find out what’s new in Google Now (besides reading Greenbot, of course) is to just play around with it often. Try out new things, especially when you’re away from home, as that’s where a lot of its machine learning and location-based tools can really shine.
All the data collection Google Now requires may be off-putting to some. But when done properly, Google Now shows how technology can liberate you from mundane details, instead being another distraction.