The One Feature I Still Want From My Smart Phone

by Ben Bajarin   |   August 13th, 2012

I love smart devices and more to the point I love the potential for smart devices. At the core of my work as an analyst I try to the best of my ability to look at what smart devices do today but to also look at what they may become in the future. I like to look at technologies, products, solutions, etc., and analyze their future potential in light of their present value. It is with this mindset that I have been taking on an experiment I have not done in quite some time.

Since attending Google I/O I have been using as my primary smart phone the Google Nexus running the latest Android OS Jelly Bean. When I get new Android devices, and I get many, I can generally only stand using them as my main smart phone for about a week. My patience runs thin with Android due to the role my smart phone plays in my professional life. The focus of this column is not entirely on my Android experience as I intend to write one just on that subject. But I have been using the Google Nexus with Jelly Bean for almost two months now and it is the first time in a very long while that I have not felt the need to rush back to my iPhone. The last time that happened was with the very first Google Nexus.

I still have my gripes, but the fact I have been able to integrate Android into my life for this long is saying something in my opinion. However, there is one new feature Google has developed with Jelly Bean that has thoroughly piqued my interest.

Google Now and the Anticipation Engine

The feature that Google has developed that has not only piqued my interest but given me quite a bit of food for thought around the potential of smart devices in the future is Google Now. Google positions Google Now as a feature that gives you just the right information at just the right time. The emphasis of this feature is contextually relevant information but it runs much deeper than that.

At the core Google Now learns about key habits on top of attempting to present contextually relevant information. The goal being to present at a glance timely and contextually relevant information. We have written before about this concept of glance-able information and we believe its future is bright.

At a much higher level, Google Now has made me think about something I had trouble articulating before. Namely the one feature I have been wanting as a part of my smart devices overall potential. The feature I speak of is anticipation.

Amazingly somewhere in the core of Jelly Bean and Google Now lies the framework to begin building an anticipation engine. With Jelly Bean we are experiencing the ground level of this foundation and I have found some very interesting examples of its value and potential.

One example is how Google Now looks at my calendar and as long as a location is included in my appointment details, I can launch Google Now at any time and see real time traffic to my next meeting location. I can also simply click from the appointment Google Now card to get navigation to that appointment from my current location. More interestingly, Google Now will alert me via a notification when the is appropriate time to leave for my next appointment based on real time and timely traffic analysis. I found this to be extremely useful.

Another interesting example is related to search. Regardless of what browser I am using, if I am logged into my Google account, when I search for things on Google interesting things start to happen in Google Now. For example my wife and I were recently in the market for a new family car. She started searching for local car dealerships on my notebook using Google. A few minutes later I happened to pull up Google Now on my phone and the top Google Now cards presented to me were map cards including traffic information to all three local car dealerships she had just looked up. I had no idea she was searching for this information so when I asked her why I was seeing directions to Gilroy Toyota on my phone she replied “that’s weird I just looked up Gilroy Toyota on your computer.”

As I further experimented with this I found it quite interesting to search for things like restaurants or other locations either on my notebook using Google or the Nexus itself and know that I could easily jump from that search to Google Now and get exact directions or other information related to that location quickly and easily without having to enter in any more information. Once I started integrating this into my search flow it became habit to utilize the information at a glance Google Now presents and I again found it extremely useful.

As I stated, we are observing the beginning of this anticipation engine concept. There are many ways I would love to see this advance. For example, related to the traffic information, I would love it if my smart device knew not only where I was headed but who I was meeting with. This way if I happened to be hitting traffic on the way to a meeting my smart device could anticipate my time frame and if I happen to be running late present me with the option to email or text those I am meeting with and alert them that I may be running a few minutes late.

There are more examples than I have time to get into of how this anticipation engine has been changing how I think about the usefulness of smart devices going forward. But I am convinced that Google is onto something with this and I am excited to see where it goes.

Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • FalKirk

    Another great article.

    I think that Apple and Google are running on parallel tracks. I think that Apple is ahead of Google with Siri and I think that Google is ahead of Apple with Google now.

    Siri doesn’t so much anticipate as she responds. A command is given, a question is asked, clarification is provided, if needed, and the command is (hopefully) executed.

    I’m hoping that Apple will adopt many of Google Now’s properties, but I am far from sure that they will. Google now has a “creepy” factor that Apple eschews. Google Now anticipates, yes, but to do so, it sometimes has to reveal that it knows more about me that I’m really comfortable having it know.

    Apple often avoids this type of negative emotion or feeling and Apple often waits until a technology is nearly complete before employing it. That would make a Google Now-like service very unlikely.

    However, one thing gives me pause. Apple’s Passbook has elements of the anticipatory conduct used by Google Now. Perhaps Apple and Google are moving faster – and closer- that we once thought possible.

    As always, technology makes me look forward to that possible future with relish and with great anticipation.