Behavior and intuitive apps are playing a big role when it comes to mobile search. Picture a scenario where you no longer need to search for something on your phone. Where your smartphone anticipates your questions and produces the answers you need, maybe even before you knew that you needed them. Far fetched? Not at all if you follow the path of current developments in mobile search, which increasingly aims to use our past behavior to preempt our future needs and desires.
Search methodology has of course been undergoing a process of constant evolution ever since the concept of the search engine was first devised. Now though, it’s facing more of a revolution, driven by the plethora of available data about our behavior and, in particular, the ability to monitor our location that the GPS enabled smartphone has added to the search mix. Far removed from the humble tracking by cookie with which we’ve all become so familiar, the mobile search of the future will be very much based on not only our own behavior, but that of others too.
Google Now, an application that you might already be familiar with on your smartphone, is a great example of the rapid pace of change in mobile search. Ever since it was launched in 2011 as an enhancement to Google’s voice search feature, Google Now has been tweaked and refined in an attempt to make search more intuitive and relevant for the mobile user. Take for example the report in Mashable back in May 2014 that highlighted the introduction of alerts when you passed near a store that carries a product that you had been searching for.
Step forward to the start of this year and Aparna Chennapragada, Google’s director of product management, unveiled the integration of Google Now with more than 40 third party apps. This move was designed to further enhance the existing “card” notifications with the addition of information that users could previously only access by opening up the app itself. The number of integrated apps is now reported to be in excess of 100, with Jason Spero, who runs performance media for Google, telling Re/code, “We have every intent on opening it up to everyone.” I’ve been a Google Now user for a long time and love its intuitiveness. I don’t have any problem signing into Google and allowing it to track my location and my habits because what it gives me in return is convenience and quick access to information I want and need. And the voice search? It’s the best.
The drive to reinvent mobile search continues apace with “Now on Tap,” a new feature for Android that is now rolling out. According to Aparna Chennapragada this is a part of a three-pronged approach from Google that takes mobile search to new levels. It includes:
- The embedding of Google Now with the repository of information that Google holds about people, places, and things known as “knowledge graph.”
- The addition of context both from the user’s location and from signals from others in the same area.
- Linking context to the apps that we have, or maybe should have on our mobile devices and providing notifications in the right place and at the right time.
Of course Google doesn’t have a totally clear field when it comes to mobile search. Many a start-up is delving into the deep linking of apps for search or exploring the limits of voice-activated search. The strongest competition for Google though, is likely to come from one of the other technology giants, including Apple, who recently launched their own revamped “intelligent” search feature. Facebook is also included here, with the news that it is developing its own assistant feature (called “M”) that is soon to be rolling out to a limited group of users.
Apple’s “Proactive Assistance”, which will launch with iOS 9 and which builds on a redesigned and updated Siri and Spotlight, will feature notifications based on calendar events, location, and app usage. Apple says that the new service will deliver reminders and predict behavior, based on past habits and context and will offer improved search functionality, including to content deep linked in apps.
These initiatives from Google, Apple, and Facebook, not forgetting Microsoft’s Cortana of course, seem to be forging parallel but diverse courses toward the same goal; that of making our smartphones smarter, search results more intuitive and relevant, and our devices more useful. There are as ever some caveats to the rush to open up mobile search by using our behavior to predict our needs. Privacy for one remains a concern for many, something that Apple is using a selling point for their system, which they claim holds data at device level rather than on a central server.
Transparency will also be more essential than ever. The companies building these services, while clearly wanting to serve up an improved user experience, are also all in the business of making money. As such, knowing more about what we do, where we go, what we eat and drink, who are friends are, what we buy, what we want, what we search for, how we travel, etc., affords many options to them, along with many opportunities to market to us.
That said, I think these are exciting times where we are seeing unprecedented and rapid advances in the technologies that we rely on a day-to-day basis. These things aren’t for everyone, to be sure. But for those of us who are immersed in the tech space and who also understand the reality that we give up our data all day, every day, in exchange for convenience and a more intuitive experience, well, it’s pretty cool. And what we see and what we know about are really just the tip of the iceberg.
Where are you on this topic? Do these advancements in mobile and technology excite you and do you see these as beneficial or do you see them as a potential threat to privacy and consumer choice? Or both? As always, I’d love to know your thoughts.