Google’s Now on Tap takes contextual answers to next level

Google's Aparna Chennapragada shows how Now on Tap will handle your hardest Skrillex queries. Screenshot: Cult of Android

Google’s Aparna Chennapragada shows how Now on Tap will handle your hardest Skrillex queries. Screenshot: Cult of Android

Google Now is about to get far more powerful, thanks to a promising new feature called Now on Tap that leverages contextual search to offer quick answers to quick questions from within various apps.

“We’re working on a new capability to assist you in the moment — right when you need it, wherever you are on the phone,” said Google Now product manager Aparna Chennapragada as she previewed the impressive new functionality during Thursday’s kickoff keynote at Google I/O 2015.

For instance, asking, “What’s his real name?” while listening to a Skrillex track could return the DJ’s name from within a music app, making Google’s hive mind more accessible than ever. (FYI it’s Sonny John Moore.)

With Now on Tap, Google continues its push to deliver information to users at the precise moment that they need it. While Google Now and Google Inbox are great for organizing your personal information and serving it up at appropriate moments in easily digestible chunks, Now on Tap will make getting all sorts of contextual information easier than ever.

It taps into Google’s knowledge graph, the search engine’s “understanding of the world and all the things in it,” which Chennapragada said currently tracks more than 1 billion entities, everything from sports teams and train schedules to restaurant reviews and cocktail recipes.

In one of her examples, she showed how Now on Tap could turn a brief text message conversation with her husband into actionable information. During a couple messages discussing a dinner date and a dry-cleaning errand, a simple tap and hold on the home button yielded a restaurant recommendation and a smart reminder to pick up clothes.

“The user in me is pretty happy,” Chennapragada said, “but I have to say the computer scientist in me is practically giddy with excitement here, because that’s some like epic natural language understanding action going here.”

Similarly, an email that mentions the movie Tomorrowland can quickly yield a YouTube trailer, cast and crew info from IMDB or a Rotten Tomatoes score.

Even more promising for frustrated foodies, the new search functionality could take the sting out of appetizers and entrees with unpronounceable names: While looking at a restaurant menu, asking Now on Tap to show a picture of a certain dish, even if you butcher the pronunciation.

Now on Tap will work with a variety of apps, Chennapragada said, and the app developers don’t have to make modifications.

“As a developer, you can implement App Indexing for Google search to let users discover and re-engage with your app through Now on tap,” wrote Android product manager Jamal Eason in a post describing new features that will be baked into the next version of Android M, which launches later this year.