Mobility

Google app's much-improved search lacks one key element

In Google's continued quest to re-envision the mobile search app into your most intelligent best friend, it has pulled off an impressive feat. And yet, it could be even better.

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Image: Jack Wallen

Google's mobile app has been a boon to hands-free searching on Android and iOS devices. By simply saying "Okay, Google, what is the population of Kentucky?", your device would speak back the results as if by magic. But it's not magic — it's powerful algorithms that sort out your questions to retrieve answers.

Up until now, the questions you could ask were fairly simple (e.g., my population question); however, Google has worked some serious mojo on its algorithms and search apps to not only improve the results offered but also to up the ante on the complexity of questions you can ask. Now, instead of only being able to query the population of Kentucky, you can add a specific year to that question (e.g., "Okay, Google, what was the population of Kentucky in 1971?"), and the Google app can answer it.

The Google app can also discern and respond to words like biggest, smallest, fastest, and so on.

Even better, the Google app now has the power to deal with listed items. For example, if you ask "Okay, Google, what is the fastest animal on the planet?", Google will respond with plenty of information about the cheetah. If you ask "Okay, Google, what are the fastest animals on the planet?", Google will respond with a multi-tiered answer (Google says cheetahs are the fastest land animal and peregrine falcons are the fastest bird). If you ask "Okay, Google what are the fastest animals in the United States?", Google will give you the relevant information (although it will not speak this level of information), listing out the fastest known animals.

Plus, the Google search app is able to better discern the meaning behind your questions. For example, if you ask "Okay, Google what are the ingredients in a boilermaker?", Google will understand you mean the drink and not the craftsman or the Purdue mascot.

Google's app still lacks a key element

The Google app is still missing one key element: the ability to easily draw search results from the local device. Yes, you can call or message a local contact or open an installed app, but what if you want to search your device for a specific file or find a contact based on the company or note field? You can't... that's part of the problem.

While I highly value the improvements Google has made to the search app, I would love it if they would spend a bit more effort on integrating Google Now with local storage on the device. It would be great if Google added something like "Okay, Google, search my device for files tagged 'edits'" or "Okay Google, search my device for contacts related to TechRepublic."

Imagine the AI-like possibilities

Nevertheless, the improvements to the Google search app are impressive. The complexity of queries you can ask the app has helped make mobile searching as close to having a conversation with your own personal on-hand expert as possible. The Google search app is no longer a simple tool for asking simple questions. I suspect Google plans on continuing its quest to re-imagine the mobile search app into as close to AI as you can get on a smartphone.

Imagine the possibilities of predictive, intelligent searching. You're using your device throughout the day, and you decide to ask Google a question. You say "Okay, Google..." and Google answers before you ask the question. That may be a bit out there or even Orwellian for some, but given what Google has achieved, this evolution of the mobile search app isn't that difficult to imagine.

"Okay, Google..."
"The answer to your question, Jack, is 42."

Well played, Google. Well played.

Tell us what you think

Do you foresee a time when mobile devices will gain a certain level of AI as to reach a predictive search of this level? Let us know in the comments.

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About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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