Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
It’s amazing to see how far Google Now has come since it launched in 2012 — yet perhaps more surprising is how many people don’t use it, and more surprising still is how many don’t know what it is. In short, Google Now is a better, sleeker alternative to Siri.
But the problem is that Google Now is more confusing for users than, say, Siri or Cortana, and I think it comes down to terminology. Google has never really been good on this front, and when you’re trying to wrap your head around terms like “cards”, “feed”, and “OK Google”, it’s easier to roll your eyes and give up.
So, if Google Now confuses you, here’s everything you need to know to clear up that confusion — plus a few tips that’ll help you get started.
This article was written with Android 5.1 Lollipop in mind. Most of it should still apply to any device running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or later, though there may be slight differences.
Understanding Google Now Cards
Google Now can do many things — like change how you search for things or control your phone using voice commands — but the Cards feature exists to keep you on top of your busy life without any effort on your part. Or at least, that’s the goal.
A card is basically a bite-sized piece of information that Google thinks you’ll want to know. Maybe it’s an alert, a notification, a news snippet, results from last night’s football game, an appointment reminder, a new restaurant in your town, or whatever else. Each thing is a “card” that gets added to your “feed”, and you can discard individual cards when you’re done with them with a simple swipe.
Google provides a lot of its own cards, but over the past few years, over 100 third-party apps have been incorporated into the system. If you have one of these apps installed, you can enable Cards integration. (For example, with OpenTable you can pay for your bill directly from your Feed.)
For the most part, cards are generated dynamically based on all the data Google has on you. Appointment reminders are sourced from your calendar events, while news stories depend on your web browsing activity, and nearby alerts come from your location history. As such, to really benefit from Cards, you’ll need to grant Google permission to know more about you.
Simple and straightforward, isn’t it?
Note that Google has, for whatever reason, started phasing out a lot of this terminology in Android 7.0 Nougat. “Google Now” is now known as “Google Assistant,” and any references to “Now” (such as “Now cards”) have been changed — so technically, the Cards feature is just called your “feed” now, but functionally, nothing has changed.
How to Enable Google Now Cards
Want to start using Cards? Great! Here’s what you have to do.
- Launch the Google app.
- Enable the Google Now feature.
- Tap the menu button at the top left.
- Select Settings.
- Select Your feed.
- Tap the option called Turn on the feed.
- Grant Google the necessary permissions.
- When prompted, tap Set Up.
- If prompted, select the Google account you want to use.
- When prompted, tap Yes, I’m In.
- Customize your Card preferences.
- Go back into Settings > Your feed.
- Scroll down to the Get notified about section.
- Enable/disable the cards according to your needs.
If you ever want to stop using Cards, go back into Settings and disable the feed. It’s as simple as that.
3 Tips to Get the Most Out of Cards
With Cards enabled, there are a handful of tips that will help you maximize your experience and results. Honestly, Cards can be pretty underwhelming at first, but once you get into the flow of it, you’ll wonder how you made it through your day without it.
1. Manually provide your interests. Open the menu in the Google app, and you’ll see an option called Customize. You really should fill this out as much as you can because it will make your cards more accurate — it won’t just add more cards to your feed but will also stop showing cards that may not fit in with your interests.
For example, filling in the Transportation details will alert you when Google expects traffic. Filling in Sports details will prevent Google from showing you Dallas Cowboys news if you’re living in Texas but your team of choice is the Philadelphia Eagles. Stocks will alert you when your designated stocks rise or fall in value.
Some sections, like TV & Movies, can’t have interests manually added, but it’s still a nice way to check what Google thinks you’re interested in, and you can remove the ones that have been wrongly added.
2. Prioritize the order in which cards show up. What if you want the Weather card to always appear at the top? Well, there’s no way to make that happen manually (again, all of this is handled dynamically by Google’s secret algorithms).
However, the more you search for something and the more you interact with certain cards, Google will take that to mean greater interest on your part in those topics — and these cards will appear higher in your feed than others. So if you want Weather to come first, make sure you frequently ask Google about the weather!
3. Start using Google Now voice commands. Frankly, Google Now is more of a nuisance than an aid if you refuse to use voice commands. Plus, there’s so much more you can do through voice commands that aren’t possible with tap-and-type alone.
For example, you can create reminders by going to the menu and selecting Reminders, and this is fine (check out our guide to using Google Now reminders), but it’s way easier to say “Remind me to [task] on [date] at [time]” — and you can do this even without having the Google app open if you use “OK Google”.
And yes, these reminders will show up as cards.
When the Google app is open, you can use voice searches and each search’s results will show up as a card. This works whether you’re searching for people, places, events, stock prices, trivia facts, current date/time, weather, navigation, etc. And when you’re done with a card, just swipe right to get rid of it. So easy, so clean, and so useful.
If you want to take it to the next level, check out how you can automate your home life using Google Now.
How do you like Google Now? Do you find the Cards feature handy and have they made your life easier? Or are they just another piece of digital clutter? Share your thoughts with us below!