At their Inside Search event in San Francisco yesterday, Google introduced several innovative additions to their web search for mobile devices and desktop computers, with instant results being the core objective.
Features already available on smartphones such as voice search and image search, will now be available on desktops; and local searches on the smartphone will be made more useful, relevant, and faster.
Whilst these features will undoubtedly speed up the search process for many, there are some hesitations as to whether speed automatically equals a better user experience, and whether Google are focusing too much on shortening the time spent on a search; rather than increasing the relevance and accuracy.
Here’s a summary of Google’s new search features:
Voice and image search:
Already available on smartphones, Google are now taking these impressive features to the desktop. If you have a built-in or attached microphone, you’ll be able to click on the new microphone icon in the search box and start talking.
This feature is particularly useful for hard-to-spell or complicated searches, or for people who are multi-tasking, for example; someone who is cooking and has their hands full. However, this is where the usefulness ends; as the busy user then has to use their hands to scroll and select the results. Perhaps this is something Google will look at in the future.
Google has also introduced the ability to search using an image from the web or from your computer, by using computer vision techniques to match your image to others in the Google images index.
You can drag and drop the image into the search box, or copy and paste it in; allowing you to find other similar or related pictures, as well as any relevant searches from the web. This could prove useful for finding the source of an image, or learning more about a place or landmark.
Concentrating on the search speed, Google have unveiled Instant Pages, which takes between 2-5 seconds off the typical search time.
Available only on the Google Chrome browser for now, this almost instant delivery of results is made possible by an algorithm which predicts the results of the search that you are most likely to choose, enabling Google to cache only the most likely contenders.
Whilst an impressive development, Instant Pages raises some questions about how Google will be able to determine what is relevant and what is not, and whether the user experience will be compromised if they get it wrong.
However, Google state they are so secure in their relevance technology that they can determine which top result is most likely to be clicked.
Local searches on smartphones:
Personally, I think the most useful addition to Google’s search techniques is the ability to find amenities around you easily, and quickly.
If you use Google homepage on Android or an iPhone you will now see four icons at the bottom of the screen; Restaurants, Coffee, Bars, and More.
Clicking on one of these shortcuts – for example Restaurants – will show you a map of your current location, and restaurants around you, as well as listing any additional information for that restaurant; such as the restaurant’s website or reviews; below the map.
Directly responding to an increase in searches for nearby places, this feature looks set to be the most useful for smartphone users; enhancing their experience of visiting almost anywhere in the world.
Specifically amending the search process for smartphone users should prove to be a huge success, as the need is increasing to make local searches faster and easier regardless of where you are in the world.
The ability to search using voice or image will enhance the desktop search process for an extended audience, greatly increasing Google’s accessibility.
Whilst speed is ultimately the most important aspect of using a search engine, I think the next few months of this new feature rolling out will determine how accurate its results predictions actually are, and whether or not they should shift their focus to providing more relevant results instead.