Google Now arrives on iPhone/iPad. So how do you make it useful?

It's here! Now what? Here's how Google Now works and gets useful on an iPhone.

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Google Now, gettin' contextual on iPhone

Image via Official Google Blog

Google Now, a nifty and automatic what's-going-on app that was previously an Android exclusive, is now available for iPhone and iPad. It promises "just the right information at just the right time": weather in the morning, traffic when you might be late for your appointment, flight details on the way to the airport. But how do you "use" it?

I actually answered a whole bunch of the questions in my head, and maybe yours, back in August, by answering one big question: "What is Google Now?". JR Raphael at Computerworld went a good bit deeper. But here's the key bit of what Google Now does after you install it:

As you use Google Now and carry your phone around, it tries to get smarter about showing you relevant contextual information when you simply bring up Google Now for a glance, rather than for a specific search. The weather nearby and your next calendar appointment (and the time to drive there with traffic figured in) are the defaults. If you allow Google to maintain your Google Web History, you'll also start seeing flights you searched for, sports teams you're interested in, stock updates, and other context.

But!

Like Siri, too, Google Now feels magical when it works, and completely moronic when it transcribes seemingly basic words incorrectly, or doesn't understand your context at all. That's the nature of voice recognition.

Google Now on iOS does have some notable differences. The "cards" can show up as the main interface for a Google search, or be tucked just below the search options when pulling off voice or text search. Google Now has 29 cards, and the iOS version offers 22 of those cards, missing mainly the deeper integrations with Google data, like recent "research topics" from your search history, and partners like Fandango (which Apple does offer through its own Wallet app).

Google Now works really well if you're using Google products like Calendar and Gmail on a daily basis. Otherwise, it's a nice feature added to the nearly indispensable Google app, which you can either try out or ignore entirely. Give it a try for a few weeks, because you have nothing to lose.

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