The Magic of Google Now and Thinking Different

"To me the great irony is that Apple’s slogan was `Think Different,’ but today if you think different you’re looking at Android.” - Guy Kawasaki, former Apple Chief Evangelist

As anyone close to me knows, in 2009 I made a complete jump over to Apple products.  I traded in my home PC for a 13" Macbook Pro, my work ThinkPad laptop for a (now) 15" Retina Macbook, my Microsoft Zune and Google Android HTC G1 for an iPhone.  In every instance I was happier, inspired even by the differences.  My laptops were reliable for the first time ever - they didn't suffer from memory lag, battery drain, or buggy trackpads.  The G1, which was the first Android phone on the market, had been ground-breaking compared to my feature phone before it, but the iPhone put it to pasture with its sheer speed and app quality.  I became, like most people in the Apple camp, transfixed with Apple being the height of quality and innovation.

But in the last year, things have begun to change.  I spent a few months with a Windows Mobile phone enjoying the fresh take on a mobile OS, and in the last few months I've fallen in love with my favorite new gadget, the Google Nexus 7.  The Nexus, and more specifically the new version of Android, is a revelation.  Where all six of the previous Android devices I used before fell short, the Nexus shines.  Navigating the device is smooth and intuitive, with true cross-app integration and action-oriented notifications illustrating the faults of Apple's silo'd approach.   Widgets on the lock screen and "desktop" make carrying around the tablet more useful at a glance than the iPad.  Small touches like built-in "swype" typing make the tablet typing faster.

The biggest eye-opener of all is Google Now.  At a basic level, Google Now is Google's take on Siri, but in practice it makes Siri look like a child.  Google Now taps all of Google's intelligence and all of a user's personal information to actively help you throughout the day.  Pull it up in the morning and Google Now will tell you your favorite team's sports score from last night, today's expected weather, have directions to your next appointment and how long it will take.  Open it after a flight and Google Now will tell you how long it will take you to get to your hotel, some restaurants and sites nearby you'd want to try.  The information is actively pushed to you based on what you signal to Google you need, from recent searches, email receipts, location history and more.  It's smart, surprising and useful-- in short, magical.  It shows you what's possible by tapping geo-awareness, personal information and crowdsourced intelligence at scale.  It makes you forget about all of the privacy and personal information concerns, and maybe even wish you had more to give. 

Recently I was speaking with some team members who are incredibly experienced and often "in the know".  They had not heard of Google Now, were not familiar with it's capabilities.  They carry Macbook Airs, iPads and iPhones, and presumed, as most of us do, that the best of what's possible is happening on one of those devices.  But my re-awakening to the world outside Apple emphasizes why it's so critical to step outside your comfort zone and use different products once in a while.  Why you should stop by a Windows 8 Store to explore the new Surface and HTC 8x.  Why you need to try a Nexus 7 before you commit to buying the iPad mini.  If you don't, you won't realize the possibilities that are out there, the break-throughs that are happening, the innovation that is being displayed outside of Apple's garden.  You won't realize that iOS is starting to feel really stale, sitting back passively and waiting for you to ask it a question or jump into a single app experience, while Google Now actively pushes you everything you need and more.  You won't "think different", the way Apple challenged us to.