Tag Archives: personal assistant

PTJ 94: How Soon Is (Google) Now, Fellow Netizen?

El Kaiser looks at the Tech Term “netizen” and explains how the once innocuous mashup of “Internet” and “citizen” has come to represent a responsibility all of us should not take lightly.

In her (Hopefully) Helpful Hint segment J.D. takes a look at Google Now, the interactive virtual assistant from the “Big G” and tells us how it is slowly evolving and trying to stand out when compared to Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.

In the news  AT&T has sealed the deal to buy DirectTV;  YouTube rumored to be buying the videogame-streaming company Twitch;  FBI arrests over 90 suspected cyber-criminals;  Verizon continued rolling out its zippier XLTE service across the country;   and Facebook is testing an Ask button on user profiles allowing a user to inquire about  the relationship status of your online acquaintance.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Operator, Give Me Information

Technology is suposed to make life easier — robots will clean our homes, hyperdrive will get us to distant galaxies and we’ll have the science to whip up a cup of Earl Grey, hot, out of thin air.  While we’re not quite there yet, Apple, Microsoft and Google are at least trying to get the helpful interactive virtual  assistant thing sorted out.

As you may recall, Apple’s Siri got a lot of press a few years ago with her splashy debut on the iPhone 4S. Microsoft’s Cortana arrived this spring for Windows Phone 8.1. Then there’s Google Now, which has been lurking since around 2012 and has been adding features since. Each system uses a form of natural language user interface to accept questions and commands asked in an informal manner.

Of the three, Google Now may be the most subdued. While it can speak up on some occasions, it mostly mines your data quietly from Google services and then tries to present data nuggets it thinks you’ll need, like traffic and weather for your location. With Siri, you press a button, ask the software for information and it responds back, usually with what you wanted. Siri can also address messages, make appointments and set reminders when you command it. Cortana tries to utilize both approaches, by responding to voice-activated commands, while also gathering more factoids about you so it can better predict your needs.

Google Now can do some voice-activated activities, like search, but it’s a less splashy service. If you have an Android device — especially one from Google — or use the Google Search app on your iOS device, computer’s Chrome browser or Windows 8 hardware with your Google account, you have probably run into Google Now.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to use the service, but if you don’t mind it poking around in your other Google services accounts like Gmail and YouTube, it can be useful. For example, once Google Now pulls info from your current location, search history, its own queries to you and your Gmail account, it can:

  • Give you the score of your favorite team’s game last night
  • Alert you to any traffic problems for your morning commute
  • Display the current price for selected stocks
  • Show when your latest Amazon order shipped
  • Tell you when your favorite blog updated
  • Round up headlines about your favorite movies and TV shows
  • Remind you to pay your bills.

In other examples of real-world use, Google Now can also show you the emailed digital boarding pass for your flight tomorrow night, tell you what time to leave for the airport (to catch that very flight) and thoughtfully show you the weather forecast for both home and your destination city.

This can all be very helpful and very creepy at the same time.

To get the most out of Google Now, let it use information from your search history. Unless of course, you often search for stuff, (without an incognito window) you’d rather not have popping up on screen.

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To customize your screen, open the Google Search app to the Google Now screen, flick down and tap the little magic wand icon at the bottom of the screen. Here, you can pick the sports teams and stocks you want to follow, choose the places you love and work for traffic and weather reports and get local TV listings. If you search for a particular TV show on Google and get a Set a Reminder link for that show in your results, Google Now shows that reminder on your screen the day of the show.

Using Google Now is pretty straightforward. When you tap open the Google Now widget from your Android screen or open the Google Search app, you see all the little bits of information displayed as “cards” that you can scroll through. If you don’t care about one of the info card, you can flick it off the screen for the time being, or tap the menu icon to stop further updates.

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Google Now also has Google Voice Search built in, so just say “OK, Google” to your device and then announce what you want to search for. Depending on what you ask, you may even get an audio response, like the current temperature. If you are using Google Chrome on your desktop and are logged into your Google account there, you can get Google Now notifications on the computer for alerts you set up on your mobile device.

Once again, like Siri and Cortana, Google Now does mine your personal information to do its job. If this gives you the wiggins, don’t use it. But if you figure Google, Facebook, Apple and the rest of them are all up in your business anyway and you don’t mind getting extra information about the things affecting your life each day, virtual assistants can save you time — and maybe make a few of those secret JARVIS fantasies come true.

PTJ 74: Just Droning On and On and On

We’re baaaaack! In an effort to burn off some of the calories we packed on during our time off we’ve put together a super-sized show. J.D. pits voice enabled personal assistants from Google and Apple against each other in a Hunger Games-style battle to the death! Okay, that may be a little heavy on the hyperbole but she does see what each can do. Musician, recording engineer, record producer and vintage home audio enthusiast Michael Puretz visits with El Kaiser to discuss affordable high-end stereo equipment. In the news Amazon tests drone deliveries for their Prime subscribers; Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One battle each other for holiday sales supremacy; Motorola has a Cyber Monday Meltdown; Apple’s iPad grabs close 70 percent of holiday tablet sales so far; and NASA confirms that Comet ISON has largely disintegrated.

(Hopefully) Helpful Hint: Speak Your Mind

siriVoice-activated “personal assistants” have been getting more useful and skilled over the years, offering a hands-free way to call up information on the Web, make appointments in your calendar, get the temperature and all kinds of similar chores. But if you haven’t used either of the two big players lately, Apple’s Siri and the voice-command function in Google Now, you may be surprised at what they can do.

The Siri assistant got a lot of press when it first arrived on the iPhone 4S back in 2011. Unlike the simplistic voice-driven search of the day, Siri could handle questions on a variety of topics and even add a touch of personalization when presenting answers. She even turned up as a love interest for a character on The Big Bang Theory. (The name, incidentally, means “beautiful woman who leads you to victory” in Norwegian.) Apple’s latest update to iOS 7 has improved the program and has even added a male voice option in the settings.

And then there’s Google Now. It’s also a virtual assistant that helps keep track of your daily life and interests  and can take spoken commands. Google Now with voice actions is available in the Google Search app for Android and iOS devices; the company recently released an extension for its Chrome browser that brings voice search to to the desktop when you utter the magic hotwords, “OK, Google.”

Although Google has had manually activated voice search for years, the Google Now software arrived in the summer of 2012 with Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) and has been growing ever since. The latest version of Android — 4.4, also known as KitKat — has more than 60 voice commands you can use with Google Now.

Want to give Siri or Google Now a shout? If you have Siri open on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch screen, tap the question mark in the corner for a list of sample questions or just ask away.Otherwise, just hold down the Home button on your iOS device until you hear the Siri beeps and see “What can I help you with?” appear on the screen. The Tech Blog has its own list of Siri commands and MacTrast’s infographic on the topic is also helpful.

If you’ve got the Google app open, tap the microphone icon at the top of the screen or say “OK, Google” and then ask your question. If you like visuals, check out Trendblog’s handy chart for what you can ask the latest version of Google Now. Google has its own list of Voice Action commands as well.

And even though it’s winter holiday time, don’t forget the Easter eggs!