Google Now is about to get a lot better in the future, aiming to serve Android users even when they're offline.
With smartphones increasingly gaining ground, digital assistants have become widely popular and heavyweight companies are competing to deliver the best software in this category. Apple has Siri, Microsoft has Cortana, and Google has Google Now.
All three have notable features and the companies have been working hard to constantly update and improve the experience. Google, for its part, significantly enhanced its assistant's capabilities with Android Marshmallow, which brought the upgraded Google Now on Tap.
The company has also added several other improvements along the way, including a much-requested landscape mode and normal size on all apps. Google Now, however, requires users to be online in order to take full advantage of its capabilities, and getting an Internet connection at all times may not always be possible for everyone.
To address this potential inconvenience, Google is now working on adding extended offline support for its Google Now assistant. According to new documents Google filed, the Google Research system has been working on an upgrade to dictation, voice commands and others such. The upgraded version would store information on the device rather than in the cloud, thus allowing for offline access and functionality. This means that users will be able to enjoy Google Now assistance even when they're not connected to the Internet.
"[D]espite increases in speed and the availability of mobile internet, speech recognition requests frequently have high latency, or even completely fail, due to unreliable or unavailable network connections," Google's documentation explains (PDF). "An embedded speech recognition system that runs locally on a mobile device is more reliable and can have lower latency; however, it must be accurate and must not consume significant memory or computational resources."
Google used 2,000 hours of anonymized Google voice search traffic encompassing roughly 100 million requests, and added YouTube background noise to better simulate real-life conditions.
The team used a number of computational models and managed to develop a voice system that runs from the user' smartphones and performs seven times faster than the current Google Now performs on the Nexus 5.
Google also wanted to keep the size down so the assistant would not take up too much storage space, and succeeded in creating an impressively light Google Now version that weighs only 20.3 MB. Considering that most devices nowadays have at least 8 GB of storage, a 20.3 MB digital assistant is more than reasonable.
The system also relies on machine-learning, which means that it will learn the user's behavior in time. The more it's used, the better it gets at anticipating the user's needs, preferences and habits.
More features are likely in the cards as well, and Google Now is shaping up as a powerful digital assistant. Offline functionality has been among the most highly-requested features and once it becomes fully available, Google Now should become even more popular. It's true that Google Now has been supporting offline voice commands for a while now, but it's only for a small, limited set of querries.
It remains unclear just when Google will implement the Google Now changes detailed in this documentation, but we may catch a glimpse of the new functionality with the upcoming Android N.