Google Mobile App Gets More Personal and Relevant

Posted on July 19, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Mobile, iOS, Android with 13 Comments

Google Mobile App Gets More Personal and Relevant

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.


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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Google Mobile App Gets More Personal and Relevant”

  1. Waethorn

    Great! I never understood the reasoning for calling it "Google Now" since it's just called the "Google app" on the Play Store, and it includes Google Voice Search.

    I just hope they don't get rid of the Google Now Launcher. This gives users an experience which highlights Google's own apps instead of their OEM garbage, including integrated Google "app" relevant data and search, and is almost identical to the Nexus launcher. I have an LG V20, and if you try to use the Google Now Launcher with it, it doesn't allow drag-and-drop to the device's unique secondary mini screen. Instead, you can just use the stock launcher with the All Apps bucket and pin a Google app icon to the secondary screen, and the LG launcher is pretty similar to the Nexus one, aside from using pages for the All Apps bucket instead of just vertical scrolling. It also includes a widget browser tab and allows you to make folders in All Apps, separate from Home screen folders. Folder icons are square with quadrant mini-icons instead of being round with overlapping icons like on the Google Now/Nexus launcher. I prefer LG's folder icons because of clarity.

    "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."

    I don't know how much better they can do this. I already see local news from my area along with all of the rest of it. I'm seeing Destiny 2 videos and stories. I already told it I only want to see hockey news, of which there is none right now, etc., etc. I wonder if they're trying to push "trending" topics from media supporters to push a political objective. Because "machine learning". Right now, they're pretty good about following viewpoints that you agree with. If that changes because of media manipulation, a lot of users are going to be pissed.

    • jdmp10

      In reply to Waethorn: Unfortunately Android OEMs that use their own skin like LG and others don't go the lengths of Google and others that use mostly Vanilla Android with many aspects of Android feature implementations and the Google App and Google Assistant app are two examples.
      That's one of the main draws of the Pixel line if having that reference Android design and operation is an essential daily thing for a user to have.

      • Waethorn

        In reply to jdmp10:

        I came from using a Nexus 5X. The V20 has split-screen mode and many other features of Android Nougat. Google Assistant doesn't provide much above and beyond what Voice Search already does IMO. The skin that LG uses is pretty plain. It isn't like Samsung's Touchwiz or whatever they call it - that thing is total crap. Settings are customized because of the unique hardware, but it has a lot of customization options that the Pixel phones lack. System updates are supposedly done monthly, but LG only publishes them with carriers here in Canada quarterly, which is better than most OEM's. Carriers here don't block or even test updates - the manufacturers do that. Why that is, I don't know. All of the carriers are up-front about that though, and manufacturers don't want to talk about it.

        • jdmp10

          In reply to Waethorn:

          That's the give and take with Android devices. You gotta lay out your necessities and nice to haves and see which device is going to balance that the best.
          For sure the LG V line has some great benefits that the Pixel line lacks but doesn't have that Google integration that only Pixels seem to have. I'm a big fan of the V line but I also am a heavy user of Google services and want the best experience from those services so i'd fall more towards the Pixel.
          The new NOKIA range with it's Nexus/Pixel like Vanilla Android experience should be the range of devices outside a Pixel for someone who wants a pure Android experience.

          • Waethorn

            In reply to jdmp10:

            I'm a realist, and when I see that the Pixel XL is $1049CDN with only 32GB of storage, and considering I got an LG V20 with double the storage for literally half the price at $520 ($399 down and $5/mth for 24mths), I doubt anybody can argue for whatever "Google integration" that you think you're getting is worth another $500. I HEAVILY use Google services because I use G Suite Business and Google My Business (new posts and website updates from the free site they give businesses) and Adwords Express for my business, and I can do that on the V20 just fine. I use Allo from time to time for the few friends that use it, but mostly I just use SMS. I use Google's own Messages app for SMS, not the stock LG SMS client, as well as Google's Calendar app in place of the stock LG one. I also have a Google Play Music account connected to a separate personal Gmail account which I use on my phone regularly. I'm not missing anything there by not having a Pixel.

            Pixel isn't "pure Android". Google is just another OEM. "Pure" Android is AOSP, and the Pixel is also customized from that. Nokia's will be something different too. Most OEM's are now using unified phone and contact apps (the address book is integrated into the phone app), which after using, I prefer over having a separate address book app like on Pixel/Nexus. As far as the phone that I own, all of the Google apps are available and marked as compatible with the V20 (meaning the Google Play Store WILL let you download and install them) aside from the Nexus/Pixel phone and contact management apps, and Google Assistant, so I'm quite happy with that.

            LG's new launcher and settings app is pretty close to Nexus/Pixel Android, but there are some subtle differences because of their unique hardware options, such as the secondary mini-screen on the V10/20. The Settings app is custom, but has the same menu structure and options as the AOSP version, aside from the options for the mini screen.

  2. Stooks

    So on iOS what is the difference between the Google App and the Google Assistant app? Is this change to the Google app or some new app?

    This move is just as clear as their messaging strategy???????

    • Waethorn

      In reply to Stooks:

      Google Assistant is just a Cortana/Siri-style "AI" voice-driven search and command system.

      The Google app (aka Google Now) gives you a card view of relevant updates to news, traffic, weather, and search topics based on your previous movements, locations, and searches. It also includes Google Voice Search without the AI aspects.

      • Stooks

        In reply to Waethorn:

        You made my point. I have voice search in both Google apps. Why is there two apps? Why does the Google app voice search not have AI aspects.

        Now they are going to update one of them with these cards. Clear as mud. Like their messaging strategy. Do you use Android messenger, Hangouts or Allo?????

        • Waethorn

          In reply to Stooks:

          I don't see any big issues with the command system with Google Voice Search, so I don't know why Google Assistant is warranted to be a separate product. Probably it has something to do with the app permissions to control other aspects of the system. The "Google app" seems to be more about info presentation rather than having control over the entire Android OS, which Assistant supports, but I have no idea. I just know that these AI assistants are getting a lot of hype, but the hype is fizzling out pretty fast on them too. Maybe it has something to do with people not liking the idea that their phone is smarter than them....

          I use Google Messages (Google's SMS client from Nexus/Pixel, available for most newer phones from other brands too) for most messaging.

          Rarely, I use Allo for some friends, and Hangouts for business contacts. Google seems to be positioning these that way: Allo for consumers and Hangouts as their business solution.

  3. Pbike908

    As an Android user on a Moto Droid Turbo 2, I still don't understand that Google Now app. I also find it annoying that there is no way I can disable the voice assistant completely as I inadvertently activate it when I long press the middle button on screen key. I like Moto Voice so I really would prefer to just completely disable Google Voice.

  4. arikan

    Google Mobile App Gets personal Relevant that's quite interesting topic you have picked up. Cyrus Installer iOS is latest cydia alternative to analyze or to install these google apps for free.

  5. Chris_Kez

    "It’s unclear why anyone would hang out here"

    The main reason to hang out there is to read stuff that interests you. So instead of browsing the homepages of a bunch of my favorite tech sites, or my usual news sites, I can just open the Google feed and it will serve up most of the articles from those sites that would be of interest to me. The beauty is that you don't have to actively "follow" topics. Based on your history (and presumably the history of similarly inclined people), Google just serves up stuff it thinks you'll like.

    Contrast this with the "Interests"-driven feed from Cortana, which is comparatively meager and often has more misses than hits. I've told Cortana I'm interested in Surface so it will try to feed any and all crappy Surface stories that you would find in a Bing News search, regardless of the source; ditto for Windows Phone. It routinely misses stuff in the more popular tech blogs for some reason (maybe they're not technically "news"? I don't know). On the other hand, without explicitly telling Google what I'm interested in I routinely get great stories from a range of good sources.

  6. Matt Lohr

    "...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."

    Interesting. Which sources understand the real world, and are equipped to check facts? Other than, I mean.

    Google, Facebook, and Twitter implicitly propagandize their corporate beliefs by the sources they sponsor and block.