In the early years (like five years ago, in fact), iPhone and Android were at odds. Closed vs. open; Design vs. customisation. Now, those lines are more blurred than ever. But Android has always had one absolute ace, and Google I/O 2015 just proved it: Google Now.
I don’t really need to explain that Google Now is great and that it keeps getting better and better—we’ve been beating that drum for awhile. But yesterday we learned just how great it could become, when Google walked through some of the new contextual updates to Android’s powerful personal assistant, called Now on Tap.
Imagine a mobile personal assistant that is just two taps away on the home key at any time. You’re in an email that references a restaurant. Tap, Tap. Address, menu, hours, and more information in Yelp pops up immediately. Who’s that weird scarred up dude from Mad Max? Oh, you mean Nicholas Hoult? Here’s all of his information plus a link out to IMDb and Flixster. What the fuck is a Escargots de Bourgogne? Let me pronounce it for you correctly and also offer up some recipes if you’re interested.
All with just a double tap on the home button.
And as Google Now gets even better, once OS-defining features are beginning to disappear. After five years of “me too” engineering, iOS and Android are starting to feel pretty similar: With the iPhone 6 and iOS 8, Apple finally added NFC and third-party keyboards, which were long staples of Android. And the other day we learned Android M will tack on fingerprint authentication, a better tap-to-pay service, and selective app permissions, all mainstays of iOS.
The two operating systems are continuing to converge. Except for Google Now.
Our own Brent Rose spent some quality hands-on time with the new Google Now and was pretty impressed. And we’re not alone in this belief—Apple knows it, too. It’s why new rumours say Tim Cook and co are working on its own Google Now alternative for iOS 9.
But even if Apple revamps its Spotlight feature into something more useful, access to Siri’s API will probably be limited at first with no timeline for when developers will get full access. Microsoft’s Cortana is also becoming more and more capable of course, but Microsoft seems more focused on spreading its AI gospel to all operating systems and internet-scouring platforms instead of focusing on really deep integration like Google Now.
It’s worth mentioning that these Now on Tap examples were just demos, tailor-made to perform without a hitch. Who knows how well-baked these features will be once we get them in Android M this fall. But with a little hopeful optimism, it looks like the beginning of something great—and so far—unique to Android.
Google Now and Now on Tap are really just the greatest example of what continues to be Android’s biggest differentiator from Apple: it’s open ecosystem. Where other long-standing differences on the spec sheet disappear, Google Now is a lasting example of what makes Android, well, Android.