Google Now is not Google's version of Siri, exactly. Nor is it just a fancy way of showing search results. It's this contextual voice search thing that can do some amazing things, can't do some basic things, and is regularly getting better. Here's an attempt to explain it.
What follows is a Q&A with the doubting voice inside my head, the one fed by questions and assumptions from bloggers, friends, and my own sense of Google and Android expectations. It has a lot of questions about Google Now. Let's get to them.
Question: So, Google Now is basically Google fighting back against Apple's Siri "virtual assistant."
Answer: Maybe/kinda. It does work through Voice Search, but it doesn't have to—you can type in anything you can say and get the same results. It does provide you with local results ("Good sushi nearby"), it does make appointments, and it lets you text people from your voice. But it shows lots of originality, too, and makes sense as an extension of Google's efforts to provide relevant, contextual answers with as little friction as possible.
You could have just said no.
Sorry. Everything in the tech press has to be a battle, even if it seems like customers on both sides are winning.
So, where is Google Now? How do I get it?
Right now, it's a feature built into Android 4.1, and Android 4.1 is officially available on two devices: the Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone (at least the unlocked and GSM versions), and the Nexus 7 tablet (made by Acer). Some devices (including Verizon-sold Galaxy Nexus phones) can be "rooted" and given a modified version of Android 4.1, and Android 4.0 devices can run a patched-together version.
That's not much of a spread
Unless you consider the remarkably brisk sales of the Nexus 7. That should signal to phone makers that Android 4.1 is something consumers want (fingers crossed).