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Google Now gets smarter for real-world scenarios

Whether you've lost your car or lost your Internet connection, Google Now is getting a little more helpful.

Google Now is an app for mobile devices that acts like a personal assistant, looking at things like your location, calendar and email to remind you that you have a lunch date, for instance -- and what time you should leave to get there.

The search giant is dipping its hands deeper into its trove of user data, trying to make Google Now more useful with a few new features.

An update Monday will tell you when products you were shopping for online are available nearby in the real world. Search for a particular blender, for instance, and Google Now will notify you when you walk past a Williams-Sonoma store that carries it.

Google Now provides its alerts with "cards," and Google wants them to work even when you're offline. With another update, Google said those cards will stay loaded on the device when you lose cellular service, instead of disappearing. In online comments, users generally applauded the enhancement.

The service also wants to solve an annoying problem for the absentminded: forgetting where you parked your car. Google Now uses a smartphone's motion sensors to try to detect when someone leaves a moving vehicle, then keeps a record of it for later.

Google says you may see the parking location card even if you didn't park your car -- like after you got off a bus or were dropped off by a friend, for instance.

The new features are currently offered for Android only, and you have to update your Google Search app for them to work.

Kinks aside, the updates add up to a more useful Google Now. They're incremental changes but show the software increasing its awareness as a personal assistant, said Scott Strawn, an industry analyst with IDC.

Google's recent acquisition of DeepMind Technologies, an artificial intelligence company, could help Google deliver even more contextually aware information.

Some users might find that creepy, but "convenience can trump other issues," Strawn said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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