Google to Open Now API to Android Developers

Developers are about to gain access to Google Now, the popular card-based information service from Google. Google didn't share too many details about the forthcoming API, but it will allow most third-party apps to surface information on Android smartphones, tablets and smartwatches.

Speaking at the SXSW conference over the weekend, Aparna Chennapragada, director of product management for Google Now, tipped off attendees that the API is on the way. Google already offers a Now API, but it is limited to just 40 apps and services at the moment. The new API would expand to everyone.

Google Now has been around for a few years. It sifts through users' Gmail, calendar and search data in order to make personalized suggestions and deliver just-in-time information. Classic use cases include real-time traffic alerts for your commute home, notifications about flight delays, sports scores as they happen, recommendations about TV content and calendar appointment details. It works well on Android devices but is limited right now due to the closed API.

Chennapragada's most interesting comments centered on how Google decides what information to display in Now. At first, the company simply guessed at what information users would find useful. Later, Google conducted several panel discussions, and later surveys, to gauge what people want to see from Google Now info cards. There's no doubt the service has improved over time. Google Now is built into the launcher for Nexus-branded smartphones and tablets. Now is also a big part of the Android Wear platform, which pushes the cards to Google-based smartwatches. 

The company is still working on it, according to The Next Web, which attended Chennapragada's talk. For example, Chennapragada said certain notification styles will work for everyone, but others need to be more carefully personalized for individuals. The Google Now team plans to spend the next six to 12 months matching Google's perception of how people want information with personal preference. Given the vast variety of data people consume on smartphones, this will be no small feat.

What's not clear is how the API will work or when it will become available. Ostensibly, the API will make its first public appearance at Google I/O in May. Google is preparing other APIs for I/O, such as one for Android Pay.

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

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