Google Now, Hangouts feel here, there and everywhere

Lost in the noise of Google I/O announcements are new features that transform the feeling of using technology.

Google developer conferences, called Google I/O, always have an "Oprah moment." During the keynote, the company gives developers a phone, a tablet or some other new mobile hardware product.

This year, Google did something even better. It gave you a new phone. And a new tablet. And a new computer. Or, more to the point, it fundamentally transformed the two most important uses for mobile devices.

What are we doing with our phones, tablets and laptops? The most basic uses are "getting information" and "communicating with people."

Google this week unleashed a blizzard of updates and improvements that fundamentally change -- and radically improve -- how we can do both of these things.

Getting information

On the "getting information" front, Google made two big additions to its Google Now service: iOS support and new capabilities.

Google Now is Google's artificial intelligent, proactive, voice-command search tool, which can pop up reminders and disparate information with uncanny relevance. When a supporting Android phone is "awake" and Google Now is selected, you can use the command "Google" to wake it, then you say your command, just like Captain Kirk would say "computer" on Star Trek.

The first big addition that Google Now added this week was an iOS version. It was built into the regular Google app. By updating the app, launching it on an iPhone or iPad and pressing the microphone icon, you can ask for things in natural language. (Sadly, the iOS version can't wake up in response to a user saying "Google.")

Ironically, because Google Now is supported only on the most advanced Android phones, the number of people who can use Google Now on iPhones is far greater than the number of people who can use it on Android devices. Now that Google has added iOS support, the number of people who can use Google Now on mobile devices has more than tripled, according to one estimate. As a bonus, iPhone users can use both Google Now and Siri, switching between them. Android users can't use Siri.

Google Now and Siri can do many of the same things, and each has abilities the other doesn't have.

What's truly different about Google Now is that it can be proactive, showing you "cards" (nuggets of information) you didn't ask for and alerting you on its own initiative to things like the changes in the weather, people's birthdays, reminders from your calendar, directions to places it knows you go, and places to go nearby.

Even before this week, Google Now users could use the voice command to search the Web; send email, texts and Google+ posts; make calls; get the time and weather; check the calendar; get Maps directions and find nearby restaurants; do math; and set reminders, timers and alarms.

All of this is streamlined by the fact that Google knows you well. For example, the first time I said: "Google, call Kenny" it knew I was talking about my son, it knew his phone number and just placed the call for me. There was no voice training, no relationship-setting -- nothing. When you ask for weather or directions, it tells you based on your current location.

One of my favorite features is that you can say "Google, play 'Sweet Home Alabama'" and Google Now will simply play the song from YouTube. It's very hard to find a song that isn't on iTunes, so it will play just about any song -- or any video.

Another cool thing is that you can say "Note to self" and whatever you say after that will be sent to you (you can set it to send self-notes to Evernote, Keep or email).

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