Google Now API Opens Third-Party Support to Select Apps

Google Now is about to get a whole lot better — thanks to new support for third-party apps. Well, that is, eventually. Google may be adding data from outside apps to Now, but access is being granted only to a few select apps for the time being. Even so, this is a promising development moving forward.

Google Now is a tool that helps Android smartphone owners stay on top of their day. It learns phone users’ behaviors and needs over time by scanning Gmail and the Google Calendar and, of course, user input. It delivers information in the form of cards that are presented when relevant. That information can be the weather report, commuting conditions, travel alerts for flights and trains, movie times, package deliveries, sports scores, and much more. The predictive app gets better the more you use it; and the information is easily digestable or actionable, thanks to the way it is presented. 

To start, 30 companies have been given access to Now through what appears to be a closed API. Together, the 30 companies and their apps will be able to deliver a total of 40 or so new cards to Google Now. Some of the apps include Airbnb, Shazam, Lyft, Walgreens, Duolingo, Coinbase, Hootsuite, Ford, The Guardian, The Economist, Kayak, and others. What can these apps do within Google Now? There are limits based on the sample cards published by Google. 

Pandora, for example, can recommend radio stations (something it already does via email). Airbnb can surface cards with current deals on nearby accommodations. Lyft will tell you it will only cost $8 (or whatever) to get home from your current location. EBay will let you know when your auction ends or when new items you’ve shown interest in are listed. You get the picture. 

According to Google, it will not share end user data with these third-party apps; they’ll only be able to see data for the purposes of generating info cards. User location data will trigger some of the cards, such as the one from Lyft, but again Google won’t actually share user location data with the third-party apps. What’s not clear is how long Google will limit the API to this initial list of 30 apps. Furthermore, little is known about the API itself. Google has so far remained quiet on the subject and didn’t respond to requests for information.

Google sees Now as a way to keep its search product relevant. Google Now often delivers information to users before they need it. For example, flight details are surfaced long before smartphone users need to head to the airport, and traffic reports are generated before people need to head home for the day. If you’re watching TV, Google Now will know and offer suggestions if you open the app when the TV is blaring nearby. Google wants to be able to answer peoples’ questions and queries before they even ask them. Adding third-party app support is one way to do that — in addition, it keeps people from using competing apps or services.

Google does run the danger of allowing its partners to assault users with too much information. That’s why Now integration is totally voluntary. Users will need to grant each app permission to interact with Google Now — and they can revoke those permissions at any time. This is probably why only a few dozen apps are being granted access. Google’s allowing customers to wade in, a few apps at a time. 

The new features will arrive in an update to the Google Search application in the coming days. For now, developers should sit back and take a look at how the initial batch of apps have integrated their services into Now. That way, coders can be ready if and when Google opens up the API to more apps. 

Eric Zeman I am a journalist who covers the mobile telecommunications industry. I freelance for ProgrammableWeb and other online properties.

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