More service than app this month, we’re taking a look at some of the recent updates to Google Now. A short while back our friends at Google announced third party integration for the service, so we caught up with Behshad Behzadi, one of the principal engineers on the project to get the low down…
Q. Who are you, where’ve you been and where are you going?
I’m Behshad Behzadi, a Principal Engineer working on Google Search and the Google app, based in Zurich. I joined Google in 2006, and have been working on various search efforts during this time, including Core Ranking, Freshness, Safesearch and Google Alerts. I now lead a team facing one of Google’s most challenging computer science projects: to help make interactions with Google easier by using natural voice conversations that understand you and your context. Prior to Google, I completed my PhD studies in Bioinformatics in Ecole Polytechnique, France and was then a post-doc researcher in Max Plank Institute for Molecular Genetics, focusing on algorithmic comparative genomics.
Q. Can you talk about the latest updates & card additions to the Google app – what’s new?
Our phones help us find answers to questions large and small, stay on top of what’s happening in our day and in the world, and get things done quickly. “Now cards” in the Google app proactively bring you information at the right time without you even having to ask.
We recently started working with 70 new partners to bring you even more Now cards from the apps you have on your phone. For example, if you book a Zipcar out to run some errands, you can keep track of your return time and get directions to the drop-off location with Now cards – checking them is as easy as a simple tap on the Google app.
You can also now do “OK Google” voice actions with some third-party apps, so you could say “OK Google, Shazam this song” or “OK Google, Show attractions near me on TripAdvisor”. This feature is currently only available in English; a list of supported apps is here.
And recently at Google I/O, we announced two new features that are coming soon. One is the ability to take actions from within apps — so if you are looking at a restaurant in the TripAdvisor app, you can say “OK Google, navigate there”.
The other is called Now on Tap, it gets you information and help with what you’re doing in the moment by holding down the home button on your Android phone. For example, if you were reading about a museum, you could hold down the home button to get the museum’s opening times. It’s part of the Android M release coming later this year.
Q. Third-party apps have been adding Now cards to the Google app since January – are you prioritising certain types of experiences?
We’re not prioritizing some types of experiences over others per se, but we do want to make absolutely sure that the information you get from Now cards is relevant at the right time. This could include information about transport (car rentals and taxi rides), money (banking and bill reminders), things you’ve ordered (food deliveries and packages) and content you’re interested in (new music, movies, and news stories to read). You can see a full list of apps that integrate with Google Now here, and some example cards here.
Q. Can I interact with Google app Now cards using my Android Wear device?
Right now, you can interact with a number of Google Now cards, including weather, shipping confirmation for packages, traffic, friends’ birthdays (and many more) from your Android Wear device. While cards from third-party apps are not currently supported, you can manage which apps send notifications to your watch within the Android Wear app.
Q. How did you decide on the phrase “OK Google” as the trigger? (Is there a genesis story?)
The “OK Google” phrase actually stems from our use of “OK Glass” as the activation word for Google Glass. One of our marketing managers came up with the phrase — she shared that story on Google+.
Q. What is the role for voice recognition in Android UX? Can you talk about the big picture?
Using your voice is a fast and easy way to interact with your device, especially if you’re driving, cooking, or your hands are otherwise full. And voice recognition has improved significantly in recent years — our current word error rate is only 8%. Voice commands have been available on Android since 2010, and we’re continuing to improve the quality of the service and increase the number of things you can do. Our goal is to save time for our users and make using your voice the fastest and easiest way to send text messages, get directions, set timers and alarms, and even turn on or off your phone’s Wi-Fi or flashlight. Our current full list of commands is here.