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Google Now Adds Reminders, Search Gets Conversational on Desktop

SAN FRANCISCO -- Your search is about to get even friendlier. At Google I/O, Amit Singhal announced several key enhancements to the company's search tool including conversational search for the desktop, an improved knowledge graph and new Google Now cards such as reminders.

Google's main goal with these changes is to make search do three things: answer, converse and anticipate. Google Knowledge Graph, which launched last year, provides card-based answers to your searches rather than just providing links to sites. With today's changes, Knowledge Graph now provides more than 570 million direct answers. It also graphs statistics and matches them up against other numbers it thinks you might want.

As an example, Singhal asked Google "what is the population of India" and the search engine showed a graph with the population growth over time in India as compared to China and the United States. Google picked the U.S. and China as comparison countries, he said, because those were the other population numbers searched for most often.

Singhal then announced that conversational search, a service which lets you pose questions via voice on your Android phone, will soon be coming to PCs and Macs via the Chrome browser. You won't even need to tap the microphone icon to start a voice search, as the browser will listen all the time and wait for you to say the words "OK, Google" to being a query. Does that remind anyone else of Siri? 

Google Now, the popular personalization service that anticipates your information needs and presents them on cards, is also getting an update. Singhal showed how users will be able to add personalized reminders to their Google Now pages and will also get new cards for public transportation they use as well as music, movies and TV shows they like.

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To showcase the power of all the new search features, Singhal brought product manager Johanna Wright on stage to do a live demo. (During her demo, Wright conducted a conversational search for Santa Cruz, then asked, "how do I get there from here?" The search engine gave her directions to the location, because it knew that "there" was the place she had just asked about. That's a level of context we haven't seen from Google voice software before.

Wright also showed how she could use voice actions to send an email to a friend by issuing a single voice command, add a reminder to her Google Now wall with a voice command and get all kinds of knowledge graph answers. She was even able to search for her flight itinerary just asking about her "flight to New York." The service knew what flight she was on and when from finding that info in her Gmail.

The new improvements to conversational search and the knowledge graph make Google a more serious competitor to Siri. Once these changes come to the Chrome browser, users will be able to have the same conversational experience on their PCs that they already enjoy on Android phones and tablets.