Now on Tap is the coolest Android feature in a long time

I’ve just gotten a chance to play around with an early build of Now on Tap, Google’s wild new feature that, in essence, does Google searches inside apps automatically. It works like this: when you’re in an app — any app — you hold down the home button. Android then figures out what is on the screen and does a Google Now search against it. A Now search is slightly different from your usual Google search, because it brings back cards that are full of structured data and actions, not just a list of links.

The build we were using was a little buggy still, but in the preplanned demos we tried, it worked really well. In a chat that mentioned Anna Kendrick and Pitch Perfect 2, cards for those very entities popped up from the bottom of the screen. In both cases, they had information from the web and tiny icons to open up the relevant page inside an app like Flixter or IMDB.

It really works

In another example, we had a tweet that mentioned Walter Isaacson. The Now on Tap card found him, and then you can say “OK Google” and ask a question that assumes Google knows what is on the screen, like “What books did he write?” Sure enough (well okay, two out of three times), it returned a Google web search that answered that precise question.

It’s a feature that infuses your entire phone with Google. It can search anything, anywhere, and it can connect you to other apps when you do it. Want to get from an email about dinner to having dinner? Hold down the home button, trust it to give you an OpenTable card for the restaurant mentioned in the email, tap it, and you’ve got a reservation. It’s so good at knowing what you’re doing in any given app, it’s kind of creepy. We’ve all gotten used to being able to be sloppy when we jam text into a Google search box. Now we don’t even have to bother typing it out, we can just let Google read our screens for us.

now on tap

In these early builds we did see more than a few loading spinners and we didn’t venture too far outside the examples that Google already had set up, so we’ll need to see just how well it works on a final build. And if you’re worried about the privacy implications of Google being able to read what you’re doing in your apps, Google tells us that you have to opt in to make the feature work and that nothing gets read until you initiate Now on Tap by either holding down the home button or saying “OK Google” inside an app.

Developing, video coming soon!

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