Android Intelligence Analysis

Now, this is how Google Now should work on the desktop

An experimental new Chrome feature shows us how Google could bring its personalized assistant to the desktop in a way that'd make sense.

Google Now Desktop

I've long said that Google Now is one of Android's secret weapons -- and since its arrival in 2012, the intelligent assistant service has only gotten more and more useful.

These days, Google Now is a vast and ever-evolving repository of personalized information -- everything from reminders about upcoming events to updates on pending shipments and up-to-date stories on subjects of interest. For many of us, myself included, it's become a frequent first stop upon unlocking a phone and wanting to know what's up in the world.

Now, Google Now appears to be expanding into new terrain. The latest place its personalized info cards are appearing is in the Chrome Android browser -- specifically, the "bleeding edge" developer version of the app that showcases new and still-under-development features.

As the sharp-sighted gumshoes over at Android Police first discovered, the Chrome Dev app just started showing an updated New Tab page that puts Google Now cards onto the standard startup screen.

Google Now Chrome Android

Just scroll down a bit from the usual stuff, and you'll see your most recently visited bookmarks (an oddly specific sort of info, but okay) followed by a collection of current news stories you might be interested in reading.

Google Now Chrome Android (2)

That's all that shows up for me as of now, but given that the Chrome Dev channel is a work in progress, it makes sense that other types of Now data -- the personalized updates, alerts, and so forth -- could eventually appear in this space as well.

And you know what? Looking at this newly enhanced take on the New Tab page, I can't help but think: Man, it'd be nice if this same approach came to the Chrome desktop browser as well.

Google actually did bring Google Now cards to the Chrome desktop browser for a while, as you may or may not recall. Back in 2014, the company created a Chrome "notification center" that let you pull up a collection of cards by clicking an icon in your OS's system tray.

Google Now Chrome Notification Center

The problem, as Google quickly discovered, is that this implementation wasn't terribly intuitive. About a year and a half after its debut, Google quietly killed off the notification center, saying "few users" ever actually opened it. And thus ended the Now on desktop experiment.

The issue presumably wasn't with the Now cards themselves, though; it was with the way they were presented. You had to go out of your way to find them -- and not surprisingly, most folks didn't bother (or maybe didn't even realize they were there in the first place).

You know where practically everyone always looks, though? Yup -- at their browser's New Tab page. It's the startup screen of the desktop browser and a location most people see every time a new tab or window is opened. And right now, it's essentially just a pointless placeholder on Chrome -- a big Google logo followed by a set of thumbnails showing some sites you've visited recently.

Google's been bringing Android and Chrome closer together for years now -- bringing the best attributes from each platform into the other, as Android and Chrome chief Hiroshi Lockheimer explained it to me. Google Now is undoubtedly one of Android's best attributes, and it'd be incredibly useful on the desktop. It just needs to be in a place where people will actually see it.

This is it. This is how Google Now should work on the desktop.

Having Now available in this way would be fantastic for existing Android users, who could easily access the same helpful info they're used to enjoying without having to pick up their phones. It'd be equally great for people who don't use Android and might get their first meaningful exposure to Now's value.

From Google's perspective, of course, anyone spending more time using the internet and its services is a good thing, regardless of the platform. So it's a win-win for everyone.

It's even more optimal, in fact, than the current Google Now implementation on Chrome OS -- where Now cards show up as part of the platform's app launcher. That's certainly something, but I've gotta imagine most people open new tabs and windows far more frequently than they open the app launcher on a Chromebook.

No matter how you look at it, having Google Now in Chrome's New Tab page just makes sense. It puts pertinent info in a place we all see numerous times a day, consistently across device types and platforms. And it makes what's now basically a blank canvas into a supremely useful universal "home screen." It's exactly what a modern browser's starting point should be -- particularly on the desktop, where many of us spend more time in the browser than anywhere else.

Here's hoping this setup makes its way through development and then spreads quickly across all of Chrome's versions. Google Now absolutely belongs on the desktop, and this, my friends, is precisely how it should be presented.

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