Google pushed out a new beta release for its Google app recently, and beta testers quickly pointed out an unusual decision by Google to forgo any references to "Google Now."
Now cards now refer to as Feed and Now on Tap refers to as Screen search. Now on Tap is still fairly nascent, released less than a year ago. It's an AI-powered feature that scans the screen for context to bring you smart suggestions without having to leave the open to go to another one.
No one knows why yet. Google didn't issue an explanation, and it's unlikely that it will anytime soon since the point of beta testing is that it gives Google more latitude to make subtle changes like this under the table.
No need to fret, though. Now cards and Now on Tap still remain fully functional even with their new name tags. Initial speculation about this move points to Google Assistant, announced in May this year at Google's annual I/O developer conference. It is less of a significant upgrade and more of an amped-up extension of Google Now.
The arrival of Google Assistant marked slight problems for users attempting to discern key differences between it and Google Now. Which is which? What does the other thing do that the other one can't? Why is there a need for two things that practically have the same functionality?
Of course, take the speculation with a grain of salt, but it's worth considering this: Google had to make a commercial on Now on Tap, but it came eight months after its release. You would think users have already understood its function by then.
If Google does intend to do away with Google Now and Now on Tap by simply giving it generic names, it could lessen the notion that Google has fragmented and disparate elements in its search functionality. It could instead build on the idea that "Google Assistant" is the proper catchall term, and the rest of the features fall under it.
This is pure guesswork, but with Inbox and Google Photos already using the assistant branding, it's no surprise if this is the direction Google is taking.
Google is riding high on its virtual assistant, even employing former Pixar story artist to give it personality, quirks and even a backstory. Google ensures the assistant will uphold the ideal two-way communication between user and technology, which means it'll be less robotic and more vulnerable. Its functions will basically be similar with Google Now, but it throws in personal preferences and linguistic context in the mix to come up with a more tailored and nuanced response.
Along with the name refresh, the latest beta release for Google also brings a much-easier option to access In Apps by turning it into a home screen shortcut. In Apps makes content from installed apps such as messages, songs and notes searchable.
Google is expected to spill more details about Google Assistant along with its Google-branded Pixel and Pixel XL on its Oct. 4 event.