Commentary

Google Needs Assistance With Now

In the future, the killer app -- the one many analysts say will most likely determine consumers’ allegiance to a particular operating system or search service -- will be the personal assistant.

You know who “they” are. Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Google Now are all positioning for the privilege to answer any question you can think of, and serve up all manner of information.

Unlike a hollow search box, assistants -- or “knowledge navigators,” as they’re also called -- hold the potential of forming lasting bonds with users.

With a wink at the future of artificially intelligent robotics, that’s clearly why Apple and others are putting so much energy into the pleasantness of assistants’ voices, and their ability to engage in “real” conversations.

In fact, assistants point to a not-too-distant future in which mobile devices have been reduced to mere media displays, while most search, navigation, and communication functions are accomplished simply by asking one’s assistant for help.

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Given the immense implications of this trend, therefore, it’s shocking to hear that Google recently lost the team responsible for Now. As Re/code reports, “Some had grown frustrated that the product, born within Android, was shuttered into search inside of Google.”

The change was apparently made to better address Google’s core business problem: the fact that as computing migrates to mobile, the company is taking in less search revenue (because mobile searches are worth less than desktop searches).

Complicating matters further, Microsoft just released the public beta for Cortana on Android. That means that Android users have options.

Luckily for Google, initial reactions to Cortana on Android are not great. As Gizmodo notes: “The program basically works the same as it does on Windows 10, except the functionality is limited by the fact that Cortana doesn’t have full access to the Android device like it does in Windows.”

Also, Google is Google, and by that we mean a tech Goliath with virtually limitless resources, and all the motivation in the world to get Now right.

No matter what unit Now falls into, Larry Page remains a huge believer in the power of personal assistants, and the central role they are sure to play in the future of search and discovery.

That Google’s incoming CEO Sundar Pichai is reportedly not as big a fan of Now is a concern. But, as history has shown, Page tends to get his way, and is never far removed from Google’s broader evolution.

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