Apple Could Be Working on an Answer to Google Now

Google Now. It's a killer piece of software. It's available on iOS, but it's even better on Android devices where it can run as more of a system-level service than it can on iOS, where it must run as an app.

In my opinion, Google isn't touting Google Now as much as it could—Samsung didn't even mention it at the company's goofy Galaxy S4 launch event—but I think that Google Now is going to become a key differentiating service for Android as time goes on.

Google Now

What makes Google Now so important? It uses what Google knows about us to present information we need before ask for it. Weather conditions in cities where we have flights or hotels booked. The location of businesses we recently searched for when we happen to be near them. Traffic reports and alerts for routes to places we habitually go.

That's just scratching the service. Google Now is in its infancy. It's already badass, but it's only going to get more awesome as time goes on.

So what can Apple do about it? Google Now is powered by Google's extraordinary profiles it has on us, its users. Those profiles are built by tracking our use of Google's best-in-class search engine, the websites we visit (tracked by cookies tied to Google's AdSense and AdWords), our use of services like Google Maps, Gmail (all our mail r belong to Google), Google Translate, and even the company's social networking service, Google+.

Apple (Could) Know

Apple has access to some of the same data. For instance, the company has access to any mail accessed through for iOS and OS X—please note that having access isn't the same as actually accessing, but the company could ask customers to opt-in for that access if it wanted to. Just as Google's customers have, Apple's customers would, too.

Apple also has access to how we use Apple Maps, and of course the company can build profiles of our Web surfing through Safari. Apple also knows how we use Siri, and that data is collected and anonymized.

The company knows what we buy and/or rent on iTunes. It knows what apps we download for our iOS devices and now it knows many of the applications we buy for our Macs through the Mac App store.

In theory, however, that information has not been used to build profiles on us. Apple makes money off hardware, with a little gravy made from some of the services that support that hardware. It doesn't need to sell us off to the highest bidder like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo! do.

And Apple doesn't even have a search engine. I think it needs one, but no one in Cupertino seems to have asked for my opinion on the matter. An oversight, I'm sure, but the point is that this is one huge source of user data that Google can employe in Google Now that Apple can't if it wanted to compete with a similar service.

So What?

Does Apple even want to compete with Google Now? In my arrogant-as-hell opinion, Apple very much understands the competitive threat of Google Now, and being able to meet or exceed the capabilities of Google's service is high on Apple's priority list.

Then again, Apple has its own flagship service. It's called Siri. Many of Apple's detractors—and even some fans—have dismissed Sir, but doing so is a mistake. Siri is a long-haul proposition for Apple, one that will grow and in both features and capabilities as time goes on.

In short, as I've said before, Siri is Apple's leapfrog of the dominant mobile interface paradigm today, the touch interface. This is more than just being able to speak to your mobile device, and it's more than being able to answer some questions and do local search.

Those things are important, but Apple also needs iOS/Siri to be able to present information to us the same way Google Now can. I'm not trying to say that's all Siri will do, but it is one step of the way towards leapfrogging the touch interface.

Grok This

Here's where we bring some excellent analytical work from Mike Elgan at Cult of Mac, who suggested this weekend that Apple may have purchased a company called Grokr.

Here's how Grokr describes itself:

Grokr re-imagines the concept of search for a mobile world by providing users with a personalized search and discovery service that makes it easier for you to get the information that matters to you the most, no matter when or where you need it. Grokr puts an end to “find and forget” searches. Instead, it remembers and gives you relevant information and recommendations based on your personal preferences. Designed to meet the needs of iPhone users with busy, active lifestyles, Grokr continually understands your likes, interests, location and brings you the right content just when you need it.

That sounds a lot like what Google Now does, but Grokr is a small privately held company early in the process of developing its product.

Grokr's NEXTGrokr's Promo Image Promoting the NEXT Alpha

Here's the short version of what Mike Elgan put together:

1.) We know Apple has purchased nine companies in the past eight months, a dramatic increase compared to the six-seven companies Apple has bought each year for the past several years. We don't know the names of these purchases because Apple hasn't announced them.

2.) Grokr pulled its iOS app from the App Store in late May.

3.) Grokr killed service for its existing users on Monday, June 3rd.

4.) Grokr announced that it would replace the Grokr label with the brand name "NEXT."

5.) All this is happening in the two weeks leading up to Apple's World Wide Developer Conference, which starts Monday, June 10th.

Oh, and Dave Hamilton pointed out to me that there's a company who owns a computing-related trademark for "NEXT." That company is, of course, Apple, which acquired the trademark when it bought Steve Jobs's NeXT Inc. in 1996.


So, you know, come on. The timing is perfect for a WWDC-related announcement, and Grokr is rebranding itself with a name owned by Apple. Plus, Apple really needs what Grokr has. It all sounds like a match made in heaven to me.

Neither Grokr nor Apple have announced an Apple acquisition, and Mr. Elgan specified that he has no inside information on a purchase, but the circumstantial evidence sure suggests this is the case.

With Grokr's technology, Apple could build in the kind of predictive services that currently give Google's Android an advantage over iOS. If this is what Apple is doing, we might even get a nice sneak peek at what Apple is planning at WWDC.

Oh boy, but do I ever hope so!