The latest scoop from 9to5Mac suggests that Apple is getting serious about taking on Google Now and providing users with information precisely when they need it. The report describes a "major new iOS initiative" that goes by the codename Proactive and pulls together data from Siri, Contacts, Calendar, Passbook, and third-party apps to assemble a personal assistant that's far smarter than Siri's current incarnation. 9to5Mac says Proactive will likely replace the current pull-down Spotlight feature and be found to the left of the primary iOS home screen. That's exactly where Spotlight was located prior to the huge overhaul that iOS underwent in 2013, and reduced usage has apparently convinced Apple to move it back to its former spot.
Update: Read the Apple iOS 9 review.
A search bar will retain Spotlight's current features, but it's the section below that's interesting. 9to5Mac says this will offer contextual information based on someone's location or usage habits. And yes, Apple's implementation sounds very similar to everything that Google Now does.
For example, if a user has a flight listed in her Calendar application and a boarding pass stored in Passbook, a bubble within the new Proactive screen will appear around flight time to provide quick access to the boarding pass. If a user has a calendar appointment coming up, a map view could appear with an estimated arrival time, directions, and a time to leave indicator based on traffic.
Proactive will also learn your routines when it comes to apps. If you call someone once a week or check Facebook and Twitter every morning, the screen will automatically display a shortcut to those apps at the appropriate times. 9to5Mac also says that Proactive will display nearby restaurants (along with ratings) during typical meal times. Apple has developed its own point-of-interest database for the project, and has even built what sounds like an augmented reality view that would let you point an iPhone's camera at a restaurant for menu information or at any street for a list of local businesses.
It all sounds very ambitious compared with what Siri is capable of today, and 9to5Mac cautions that Apple may scale back many of these plans and start with more modest feature additions in iOS 9 — if they appear at all. For the full story, don't miss 9to5Mac's full report on the development of Proactive. Apple's WWDC keynote takes place on June 8th.