Google Now on Android needs a set of standards

Chase Bonar
 from Winter Springs, FL
Published: April 28, 2013

Google's bread and butter of Android are services like Google Drive and Gmail. Likewise, the company hailing from Mountain View also found a market with Google Now, and it's easily my favorite feature of any Android smartphone. I cannot keep track of how many times per day I use Google Now, and I feel it's a good thing. With its multiple levels of tailored information, the value proposition of Google Now is a clear reminder of how reliant I am on El Goog.

I check the weather with Google Now. I use it to see local concerts. Calendar events, stocks, and directions are visited multiple times a day as well. It's a personal assistant that doesn't require micro management.

However, as I've been focusing on the Nexus 4 and HTC One as of late, it's become increasingly difficult to ignore how bad Google Now feels on the One as compared to the latter.

On the Nexus 4 you're always a swipe up from the home button from launching Google Now. It feels as natural as pressing the power button to turn on and off a smartphone. It's the focal point of the experience, and it brings a natural feel to stock Android that I can't ignore. Every time I revisit on-screen buttons after an absence, I remember why I prefer them over everything else. Capacitive and physical buttons of Android feel like the equivalent of the iPhone's home button: old school.

Likewise, the HTC One handles Google Now entirely different than the Nexus 4, and I'm not at all impressed by its functionality. A long press of the home button will launch the service, but it just feels medieval. It's not as fluid as it should be. To top it all off, you can no longer launch Google Now from the lock screen, which is entirely the fault of Sense 5.0, and proof that there is work to be done with the next version of HTC Sense.

Essentially, my main gripe with the One's home button is complex, but strictly from the perspective of launching Google Now, it just isn't a good implementation. It's finicky. The home button is overworked on the One and it clearly shows. A short tap brings you home, as you'd expect, but you can also double tap to view your recent apps list, and long press to launch Google Now. On paper these functions sound perfectly acceptable as they don't veer away from any other Android smartphone's handling of these functions, but it doesn't compliment the Google Now experience at all.  

It's likely that the capacitive home button on the One has a "sweet spot," and that I'm just not used to the placement of the button. But that still doesn't take away the fact that for every time I go to launch Google Now and it doesn't work, the immediacy that makes Google Now wonderful is lost for a split second. 

There is always the option of adding Google Now onto the dock of your home screen so you can access it from the lock screen as a shortcut. However, that means you have to sacrifice an item from the dock.

The whole situation is a bit frustrating.

What it boils down to is how often the home button is visited when using the HTC One. This home button gets around, and I feel like it's getting abused. However, the much larger picture is Google's lack of requirements might be hindering the immediacy of the Google Now experience.

If Google Now was really a feature, and not just an afterthought, Google would assert the app as more of a component of each Android device, and not simply something that must be "fit in" by OEM's at the last minute.

I realize that the word "open" can easily be thrown around as defense against any sort of hardware requirements, but the fact of the matter is Google Now works better on smartphones with on-screen buttons. This experience is not limited to the Nexus 4, either, as many OEM's have hopped on the train to on-screen button-ville lately.

I'm not saying all Android smartphones need on-screen buttons. What millions of people like about the Samsung Galaxy S 4 could very well be the physical home button. I just think Google should flaunt the power of Google Now a bit more by implementing standards for launching it. There needs to be a reason Android smartphones have deep Google Now integration since the service is already available on competing operating systems.

Google Now needs to be available from the home screen. There could be a dedicated button to launch Google Now, or a button-plus-button combination to launch it from any app, or when the screen is off. Since Google Now will undoubtedly be around for a while, this service needs to be controlled to a point that it doesn't hurt its sole motive: to get information quickly no matter where you are in the Android OS.

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the implementation of Google Now on the HTC One, and other Android smartphones. Does button layout negatively affect the experience of Google Now? Do you think Google should implement standards to streamline the Google Now experience? You know the drill! Hit the comments below to get the discussion going!

Updated with lock screen shortcut references. Thanks, guys!