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Google Now On Tap

It sometimes seems like every new announcement from Google brings us one step closer to a sci-fi future where machines can do anything. That is certainly the case with Google Now “On Tap,” an extension of Google Now that makes the search engine even more like a personal oracle.

What’s On Tap?

On Tap is one of any reveals to come out of Google I/O, the recent developer conference the search engine hosted. It uses the existing technology of Google Now, Google’s personal assistant function that comes built into Android, but takes its usefulness to a whole new level. The current version of Google Now can answer questions, get you more information on something, or pull up useful links in little knowledge cards—but only when using Google mobile search on the Android (or the Google Chrome browser on a computer). On Tap takes Google Now out of the box and lets you use it basically anywhere on your Android device.

That means that whether you’re in an app or texting a friend, Google Now On Tap can tell the context of what you’re reading/writing and is able to pull up related info. As explained by Aparna Chennapragada, who developed both Google Now and On Tap, “When you tap and hold on the Home button, you’re telling Google Now, ‘here’s something I need help with.'”

Chennapragada gave some specific examples. In one, she says to imagine you’re reading an email that mentions a movie title. You wonder what the movie is about so you hold the Home button and a Google Now card pops up. The card offers IMDB info on the movie and a link to the trailer on Youtube, plus other helpful info. It basically saves you the effort of switching to a browser and conducting a search to find out more. This functionality is nothing new on its own, but having access to it within email, text messages and apps is a whole different game of cricket.

The App Game

One interesting note about On Tap is that it works while inside of any app—but only if that app is indexed by Google. From a technical standpoint this makes no sense. Obviously, if Google Now can “read” the content of an email (which certainly isn’t indexed) it can also “read” the on-screen content of an app. The requirement is most likely a way of pressuring developers to index their apps, which Google wants for its own reasons.

Nefarious hidden motives aside, Google Now On Tap is one of those small advances in the smartphone wars that make life a little bit easier.