Not Quite There Yet

Despite last week’s pessimism, I will be getting my Pixel 6 Pro after all. It’s supposed to arrive today or tomorrow, and then I get the fun of transferring everything. Last time I did that–going from a Nexus 5X to Pixel 2 XL–the experience was…well, let’s just say “Less than polished” and let it go at that. To be fair, I didn’t do a direct transfer–the Nexus had died, so I did a clean setup and then downloaded my apps and data from the appropriate Google backups. Google then, and probably now, prefers the direct transfer, and since my 2 XL is still working well*, I’ll give it a try.

* Knock on wood.

Once I’ve had a chance to use it for a bit, I will, of course, share my thoughts. But that’ll be a couple of weeks away. In the meantime, I’d like to talk about a feature on the current phone that comes off as only partly baked.

The feature is simple in concept: if you’ve entered your home and work addresses in Maps, you’ll get notifications about the travel time between the two. These pop up during commute hours–home to work in the morning, and the reverse in the evening.

It’s actually quite handy. I don’t know that I need to know when the trip to work is going to take two minutes longer than usual, but I definitely want to know if I’m going to be stuck in traffic for half an hour.

But there are some weird omissions in the system, leaving it feeling unfinished.

For example, there are two routes I can take; on a typical day, the travel time between the two differs by less than five minutes. I almost always take the one that minimizes my time on the freeway because–Richmond Parkway notwithstanding–I prefer the scenery on that route.

Isn’t the Google Assistant supposed to learn your habits over time and improve the information it gives you? If so, it hasn’t been tied into the drive time feature, because the phone always gives me the travel time for the other route.

Then there’s the question of when the notifications appear. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to tweak the schedule. Mine, for example, is not a simple 9-5, M-F routine. The days vary, as do the hours. I’m not sure which is more annoying: not getting a drive time notification for a Saturday commute, getting a notification on a Tuesday when I’m not working, or getting the “going to work” update at 8:00 am on a day when I don’t start until noon.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could tell whatever piece of the Google Assistant is responsible for these notices what my schedule is? Better yet, what if I could tell it to look for events on my calendar to clue it into the schedule automatically? Heck, I have a calendar conveniently named “Work”; I imagine I’m far from the only person who tracks their schedule that way. Wouldn’t it be awesome if the Google Assistant saw that calendar and asked if I wanted it to use that to show me relevant commute information?

Bottom line: a useful feature held back by what feels like an incomplete implementation.

But perhaps I’m doing the designers an injustice. There’s nothing wrong with building a tool to meet your own needs, and the current functionality is just fine if you (a) follow Google’s recommended route religiously–or have a shuttle driver who does–and (b) you’re always working–or work from home.

And, for all I know, the current limitations of the system are because my 2 XL is on Android 11 (and can’t be upgraded beyond that point). Perhaps that shiny new 6 Pro with Android 12 will add some controls so I can tweak the notifications to my needs.

2 thoughts on “Not Quite There Yet

  1. When I tried using Google Assistant, while I was enduring the daily Bay Bridge horrorshow, it could not figure out my patterns. Traffic was often so slow that it couldn’t tell whether I was walking or in a car. At one point, it asked me, “How do you usually get around? On foot? By bicycle? In a car? Or on public transit?” and I just looked at it and said, “I can’t answer that question, unless ‘all of the above’ is a choice.” It did once warn me, when I was about to drive into San Francisco, that the place I was planning on going to would close before I got there. That was useful. Otherwise, yes, it should be more customizable.

    One thing I was trying to figure out, before the pandemic started, was how to get something like Google Assistant to warn me whenever there was going to be some major sporting event screwing up traffic or transit anywhere along a route that it knew, whether from my regular patterns or GCal, that I was going to be taking. Searching for this sort of information online gives machines the notion that you might somehow give a rat’s butt about the relevant scores, and it would start showing you news items about, say, the player’s injuries. There should be a way to indicate that you are only interested in such events insofar as they mess up your travel plans. I know your mileage varies on this one.

    Like

    • My mileage varies less than you might think. I agree that something that can anticipate traffic based on scheduled events like would be massively useful. I’m not sure it needs to be in GA–I’d rather keep GA focused on current conditions when it comes to traffic–but I’d love to be able to ask Maps for directions to a location at a specific date and time and have it take sporting events, festivals, and other predictable traffic creators into account in addition to what it already does with typical traffic patterns per time and day of week.

      Like

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