So far, searching for content on a phone has been designed around the experience of searching for content on a desktop. Google’s search bar still leads you to a list of text links. And it’s proven to be a pretty lousy solution as we try to navigate information on a tiny screen, pulling some small factoid to settle a bet. But it’s also not usually taking advantage of a lot of the information unique to having a mobile phone—namely, your exact location on the move.
Today, at Google IO, the company showed a series of updates to search that finally acknowledge mobile devices are different from their desktop counterparts. And while we’ve only seen a bit of its capabilities, there are some promising ideas for sure:
That long list of text links Google is so known for is no longer the end point for many searches. Instead, Google propagates what they call "cards." They’re essentially automated blurbs about what you’re searching for, covering the basics, with big pictures and easy to read type. So a search for "Angelina Jolie" snags her picture along with a list of movies she’s been in, or a search for "Prime Minister of Japan" will connect the dots and simply pop up a card of Yoshihiko Noda. Notably, these cards offer the perfect bite-sized information, not just for a small mobile screen, but for Android’s expanded Siri-like voice capabilities. But if the information you’re looking for is deeper than a card goes, Google has solved that issue, too. Just swipe the card away and you’ll have access to that classic list of blue links.
If you search for something on your computer, Wi-Fi triangulation or even your IP can offer Google some context as to where you are. But when I’m Googling at my desk, I’m not usually looking for location based results—train lines or nearby restaurants. Google Now—the cornerstone of Google’s new mobile search—will take into account your position to generate search results. In fact, as soon as you load the Google Now search page, it will automatically pull transit schedule information from nearby buses and trains. In other words, if you’re standing at the bus stop, you can instantly see the schedule. And it’ll do the same for places to eat, too, highlighting restaurants in the area as you walk by.
But Google has a lot more context than just your GPS coordinates. They can take into account your other information in Google services to stay relevant, like your search history and your calendar. On stage, they showed off a use case scenario in which someone had a meeting on their calendar, and Google Now could tell the person, not just when the meeting was, but when to leave for the meeting to take the bus and get there on time.
On the backend, that means Google is juggling where you are, where you’re going, when you’re going there and the different ways you could go (or like to go). On the front end, it just means that Google can just say "you’ve gotta get going, buddy."
Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like our technology is taking us anywhere, like any innovation is happening in the space. But take a step back, and consider where we were before and after Google’s announcements today.
We just went from "crap, when is my appointment..and crap, how do I get there??" to "you’ve gotta get going, buddy, and here’s the way—yeah, of course I’m redirecting you past the traffic." While Google is certainly wielding some powerful AI to make this possible behind the scenes, ultimately, it’s a series of design decisions that’s making this new experience possible, one that’s combining many search queries into one actionable piece of information—hopefully, the precise piece of information we were looking for in the first place.
They’re pulling us from an era of blue hyperlinks and typos to one fueled by the places we go and things we see, showing us the places we’re going and things we’ll see.