Google Now to suck in app data

GOOGLE doesn’t want to lose its perch atop the search market, and it’s looking to the likes of Airbnb, eBay eBay, Lyft and a couple dozen other companies to help it do just that.

Google is announcing that, for the first time, it’s allowing third-party apps to deliver information to Google Now, its predictive search app that’s built into Android phones, Android Wear smartwatches and the Chrome web browser.

Google Now has been seen as the future of Google’s search technology since it launched in 2012 — a tool built to deliver frequently searched for information before users ask for it: Traffic for the commute home, sports scores, details on flights and reservations, package shipments, calendar appointments, breaking or popular news stories, and the weather.

Until today, all of this data came directly from a user’s Google account — what they searched for on and bits of relevant data scraped from their Gmail accounts.

The predictive search results show up in Google’s namesake search app as Google Now “cards” — digital cards just big enough to contain the quickly consumable information a user is looking for (the five-day forecast, a breaking news headline, etc.) – that are presented as a feed of must-have information.

Starting today, Google Now is formally opened up to a select group of more than 30 third-party apps each of which will feed data into Now cards. A user will only see these new Now cards if they have the related non-Google app installed on their phone.

For example, if a person has both the updated Google app (it’s rolling out to Android users first, starting today) and the Airbnb app downloaded on their phone or tablet, Airbnb will feed into Google Now the listings a person has searched for and what dates they were looking at booking a property.

The information will show up as a Now card asking the user if they want to book the place they were looking at, a few days before the potential rental dates.

Google told the Journal that the changes will result in more than 40 new cards being available to users, and that no user data from Google Now itself (such as what stock or sports teams a user follows) will be shared with third-parties in the process.

Some of the new third-party Now cards will be triggered by location, but Google won’t share a user’s location in such an event.

However, once a user taps on any third-party Now card, they’re launched into that non-Google app, and that company’s data collection begins just as it does any time that specific app is used normally.

The move to bring third parties into Google Now is aimed at making to tool more useful, and thus more popular among users. But it will also bring to Google Now, for the first time, prompts to spend money.

For now, Google is not charging the third-party providers for the referral traffic.

Other examples: Ride-sharing firm Lyft will push a Now card to those who arrive at an airport, anticipating that they’ll be looking for a ride home.

eBay will shoot over reminders on items a user has bid on. Kayak will let people know when prices on previously searched for flights have dropped.

Zillow will let you know when new listings show up in markets you’re thinking of buying a home in. Each of these new Now cards are more than predicting search results — they’re predicting and facilitating purchases.

Google Now is making a formal media play, too. The Economist will be able to send users Now cards with links to new stories and the Guardian will be able to do the same with recipes. Shazam, the music discovery app recently valued at over $1 billion, will remind users of songs they’ve recently heard in their app.

All of these third-party app integrations are optional for Google Now users. In order for any of it to work, a user has to have a related third-party app downloaded to their phone, and they will have to have given permission to Google Now to use data from third-party apps, which can be found in Google Now’s “Web & App Activity” settings.

Ultimately, Google envisions a world in which you don’t need to go to its search box.

“Maybe you don’t want to ask a question; maybe you want to just have it answered for you before you ask it,” Larry Page, Google’s CEO and co-founder, said speaking at a summer conference last year.

Some companies that plan to integrate their services with Google Now will have to balance the desire to reach those users with concerns about what data may be too private to share with Google, according to a person at one company that works closely with Google.