Google is updating its Google app on Android and iOS to incorporate more machine learning-based personalization features. But the real story here is that the search giant is quietly dropping its Google Now brand as well.
“People have long turned to Google to get answers, learn about the world, and dig deeper on topics they’re passionate about,” Google vice president Shashi Thakur explains. “Today, we are announcing a new feed experience in the Google app, making it easier than ever to discover, explore, and stay connected to what matters to you, even when you don’t have a query in mind.”
Before explaining exactly what that means, let’s step back for a moment and try to put this in perspective. I say “try” because this is a bit hazy to me. But here’s my understanding: Google introduced Google Now in 2012 as part of a then-new mobile search experience that included its then-unnamed Siri competitor, a digital assistant with voice control. Google Now was meant to be proactive, and one might argue that it has always used what we now call machine learning to present you with the information you need at any given moment.
Over the years, Google Now and that unnamed digital assistant have been updated and, in the latter case, later named to Google Assistant. The Google and Google Assistant apps are available on both Android and iOS, and on Android they are integrated right into the user experience.
But the basic idea behind Google Now has remained consistent: Present the user with information that is relevant to them, at that time, and at the place they are at that moment. Your upcoming meetings. Your next trip. The weather. Traffic conditions. And so on.
The Google Now—sorry, Google app—presentation has consisted of a cards-based UI since 2012 and has included a feed since December 2016. With this week’s update, the Google feed is expanding to include information content from search results. Not random information, hopefully, but information that Google believes is relevant to you. Again, machine learning.
“We’ve advanced our machine learning algorithms to better anticipate what’s interesting and important to you,” Thakur says. “You’ll see cards with things like sports highlights, top news, engaging videos, new music, stories to read and more. And now, your feed will not only be based on your interactions with Google, but also factor in what’s trending in your area and around the world. The more you use Google, the better your feed will be.”
From a UI perspective, this means you will be able to follow topics that you find interesting and unfollow those that are not. And Google will even try to overcome what I think of as the “tunnel vision” problem—where you only read from online sources you’re biased toward, thus limiting your understanding of the real world—by presenting related topics from a variety of sources and providing obvious fact-checking. We’ll see how that goes.
Ultimately, this update seems to be about driving usage of the app–it’s unclear why anyone would hang out here—and thus push Google search results in a new way in the process.
You can download the updated Google app for Android, and for iOS, now in the US; it’s rolling out internationally in the next couple of weeks. If you’re using a Pixel or Pixel XL, this functionality is built into the Pixel Launcher.