Lawyer: Computer, when is the Smith deposition?

Computer: The Smith deposition is currently scheduled for July first. However, the weather forecast for Chicago shows an eighty percent chance of severe thunderstorms on that date, it’s the same day as your 25th wedding anniversary and you have an unread email from Mr. Smith indicating that he will be out of the country on that date. Shall I reschedule and make some dinner recommendations?

Sounds pretty cool, right? Now imagine that the computer brought this to the lawyer’s attention without the lawyer asking.

That’s where Google is going. And they’ve recently taken a major step in this direction with Google Now.

Does this sound like Star Trek to you? It should. Google’s Amit Singhal has made it no secret that he’s trying to build the Star Trek computer.

My dream search engine of the future guides me throughout the day. It knows my next meeting is downtown, but the streets are closed, so I should take the subway. It reminds me that my wife’s birthday is in two weeks, tells me she wants an iPad and suggests I talk to my friend, Matt, who has done research on its Wi-Fi capabilities. Then it sends me directions to the closest store. It could even suggest a romantic restaurant nearby, search our schedules, and book a candlelit table for two.

While Google Now isn’t quite a Galaxy class starship computer today, it’s way more impressive than Siri, which frankly, I’ve found rather useless.

Google Now is available in the Google Search app for Android (on Android Jelly Bean 4.1 or higher) and iOS (iPads and iPhones). I’ll be reviewing it on an iPhone 4S.

When you first fire up the latest version (V3.0.1 at time of review) of the Search app, there’s not much to see. You’ll probably get a, “Check back soon, More cards will appear when the time is right,” message.

But wait a few minutes, and you’ll automatically start seeing “cards.”


Currently, there are Google Now cards for:

  • Weather
  • Traffic
  • Next Appointment
  • Flights
  • Gmail
  • Public Transit
  • Places
  • Sports
  • Public Alerts
  • Movies
  • Stocks
  • News Updates
  • Photo Spot
  • Birthdays

You can also turn specific types of cards on and off as you wish. You can also turn Google Now off altogether, toggle Voice Search on and off and adjust SafeSearch settings.

Depending on which cards begin to appear for you first, your initial reaction might be to feel a bit creeped out. Especially cards related to your location. But if you don’t have a privacy issue with location apps, the Search app is particularly impressive. For example, while standing waiting for the train, I glanced at the app and was presented times for the next arriving train. Which, for those of you who are familiar with SMS’ing for the next train time, is a much more efficient experience.

Speaking of location updates, the most recent version of the Search app addresses an issue with which location app users are quite familiar, battery life drain:

Google Now updates your location to pinpoint the info you need. So, the location icon stays on. However, updates don’t require GPS and have minimal impact on your battery because:

• Cell towers & Wi-Fi provide location updates.
• If battery gets low, location updates pause.
• The app stays asleep until you move – a lot.

Admittedly, I haven’t done anything scientific in terms of testing the battery life with and without location. However, my anecdotal observation has been that I haven’t noticed any battery life problems with the app running and location turned on.

As with any technology, lawyers need to think about the interplay of the Search app and their ethical obligations. Can this technology be ethically utilized? Of course. Can we imagine situations in which it might pose a risk to a client? Undoubtedly. The same can be said for cell phones, email and even the trusted yellow pad.

Even if you decide that the Search app isn’t for you, it’s worth understanding some basics about how it works. Especially if you have clients who are using it. Further, since it may make reviews of your firm more visible, you might want to see what people who look you up see.

I’d like to see (and expect to see in the not too distant future) a better system for notifications. Whether that’s push notifications or something else, in order to use your information when you need it, you need some kind of prompt. To my knowledge, the app doesn’t do this yet.

If you really want to be impressed, try out the app’s voice search feature. While it struggled to get “lawyerist” right, when I asked, “Who was Abraham Lincoln,” the app spoke the answer back to me:

According to Wikipedia, Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth president of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865.

I tried a couple more “Abraham Lincoln” searches and was really impressed with the conversational search experience.

It’s likely that the Search app and Google Now are good indicators of the future of search. I don’t think anyone should be surprised to see “traditional search” look a lot more like the app.

Google Search App for iPhone
Reviewed by Gyi Tsakalakis on .
Sleek, Useful, Uncanny
Google’s Search App for iPhone with Google Now is pretty impressive in terms of giving you the information you need when you need it.
Rating: 4.5

Leave a Reply