I’ve been thinking about something on and off since we first saw Google Now and even, to a degree, when we first saw Siri. Are these kinds of assistants heading in the right direction? For the future I envisage I don’t think they are. Let me explain.
If you are involved in the Android Ecosystem to some degree will you will no doubt be aware of Google Now. Released in June 2012 it has quickly become one of my favorite things in the whole of Android. I won’t go into all it can do but the example i use to those who don’t know is; I deliver to a few different places every day at set times. Wherever I am in the country Google Now will notify me when i need to leave to arrive at that drop off on time. Oh and it knows the route I prefer so it navigates me that way. It’s like having a mate say “dude you need to leave now if you are going to make it to that thing” Completely non intrusive and from what I have seen Siri is also pretty cool. The fact that you can talk in a natural voice is a massive plus for any of these kind of assistants.
Here is where the issue lies though. They don’t go far enough for me.
Matias Duarte (Director of UX at Android) once said “Our approach (to assistants) is more like Star Trek, right, starship Enterprise; every piece of computing surface, everything is voice-aware. It’s not that there’s a personality, it doesn’t have a name, it’s just ‘Computer’.” Now that has stuck with me ever since. Star Trek computers are amazing things, and yes each panel you touch is voice aware, but there is more. Two things stick out to me:
1. The Star Trek computer remembers who you are and your settings.
So to be like the ‘computer’ each of our devices should be able to configure on the fly. This is happening more and more with cloud based software. I couldn’t write articles or do my Podcast without Google Drive now and each of my android devices is integrated into that cloud based system. But I want more. When I buy a new device and put in my Gmail account I want it to set my device up exactly like the last device I signed into. If I then want to alter it individually then fine, but from the start I want all my preferences there and ready. Apps need to be looked at differently though. We would need device specific sections of the app update. “would you like to install the apps from: Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 7 onto your Nexus 4?” Just the Gnex ones thanks. Then it can give me all my save data associated with those apps.
I know this is asking a lot but this is the future that I want to see. So now we come to point two and the main reason for this article.
2. There is no “computer” app in Star Trek.
Both Siri and Google Now have the same inherent flaw. You have to open them up to get them to work. Lets take a trip through our imagination if we can. Oh look there’s naked Megan Fox riding on the back of an actual giant Fox.. NO focus!
Imagine working on your amazing Transformer tablet from Asus and you want to listen to music so you flick up from the home button, and instead of the Google Now App the familiar bong of Google Now sounds and you say “Play me some music.” It then just plays. No opening an App for the command, then that App opening the music App for you to choose the music. It just selects your most popular playlist and plays it on random. Isn’t that what you think of when you think Star Trek ‘Computer’? The most important thing is for it to not interrupt my flow of work.
Here’s another example. Whilst writing this article I wanted to find out Matias’ job title from Google so I pulled up from the bottom of my screen and went into Google Now and voice searched “what’s Matias Duarte’s job title” and Google now told me. That in itself is truly amazing but why did I need to come out of what I was doing for that to happen? I should have been able to flick up from the bottom, hear the bong, ask the question, and have Google Now tell me without me ever having to leave the App i’m in. If the voice answer is not what you need you simply say “show me more” and then the Google Now app or the browser open and give you more details. That is the future I want to see.
Why have voice controls if you can see what the voice is saying? If Google Now or Siri is telling me the information displayed on the screen then it’s just an annoyance. Like a friend telling you whats happening in a movie while you are watching that movie. Pointless.
So that’s it. My vision of the Future. I’m not asking for much, just the ability to talk to my device and have it do what I ask without interrupting the flow of my work.
What do you guys think? Am I asking too much? Do you think that assistants should open up in App or run in the background?
Let me know.