Android 6.0’s big hallmark feature is Google Now on Tap. Part of Google Now, Now on Tap allows Google to scan the screen whenever you open it, automatically guessing what you want to search for and providing you with more information.
Aside from user-manageable app permissions — something Apple has offered from day one with the iPhone — this is the most important and interesting new feature in Android 6.0 Marshmallow.
What is Now on Tap?
Google Now has been creeping further and further into Android with each release. On modern Android devices — at least the ones using the Google Now launcher, which you can install on any device from Google Play — you can access Google Now by swiping to the right on the home screen. Google Now provides you with information it thinks you might want to see — everything from package and airline tracking details based on the emails you’ve received to the weather in your area and directions to home or work, depending on the time of the day. You might also see directions to a location you’ve recently searched for or the latest scores from sports teams you’ve searched for.
This is essentially Google’s competitor to Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana. Google puts a high value on providing information before you have to ask for it, something Microsoft is doing with Cortana and Apple is only now beginning to do with Siri in iOS 9.
Now on Tap extends that even further. Android apps can expose their data to Now on Tap. When you open Now on Tap, it scans the screen for the information you might want to know more about and suggests relevant “cards.”
For example, let’s say you’re listening to a song in an app. Pulling up Now on Tap might present you with more information about the artist. Or, let’s say you’re having text conversation and someone mentions a restaurant. Pulling up Now on Tap will show you a card about the restaurant so you can see reviews and directions.
That’s the goal here — rather than manually performing a search for the person, location, or something else of interest, you pull up Now on Tap and it automatically searches for what you want. Of course, it isn’t perfect, especially in its first release.
How to Use Now on Tap
To use Now on Tap, just press the Home button and hold it down. This shortcut previously opened Google Now, but it now goes straight to Now on Tap. The first time you do this, you’ll be asked to turn this feature on.
On some devices, you might need to use another shortcut. You should be able to use whatever shortcut opens Google Now — for example, that may be a double-press of the Home button on some devices. Only Google’s Nexus devices currently have Android 6.0 Marshmallow, so we’re not completely sure how Samsung and other Android device manufacturers will implement this.
Google recommends you try this “with people, places, and movies.” If an app — or even just a webpage in Google Chrome — mentions a people, place, or movie, you should be able to see immediate information about it through a long-press of the Home button.
You can also say “Ok Google” or tap and the mic and ask a question based on what’s on the screen after opening Now on Tap. For example, while listening to a song in an app, you can open Now on Tap and then say something like “Ok Google, what’s her real name?” or “Ok Google, how old is he?” Google Now will perform a search based on the information in Now on Tap. In this case, it should see that you’re listening to music by a specific artist and perform a search for that artist’s real name or age and answer your question.
It’s that simple — the shortcut that previously opened Google Now now opens Now on Tap. You can still access the main Google Now screen from your home screen, the Google search app, or notifications that arrive on your Android device. You can also tap the “G” button at the bottom of the Now on Tap screen to go to the Google Now interface.
This will get much more useful over time as more third-party Android apps opt into this feature and as Google extends Google Now on Tap to understand more types of data. For now, Google’s Now on Tap shows what’s possible with the deep integration of Google’s “knowledge graph” into the Android operating system. Android is becoming more and more integrated with Google’s services.