Google boosts search powers on desktop and Android

15 Jun 2011

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It seems lessons learned on smartphones are filtering their way back to the good old desktop. Internet giant Google has introduced voice and image-based search technology to its desktop search services, as well as adding new tools for Android.

It actually makes perfect sense. There’s no reason why those bulky desktops that take up so much space at work and home cannot be more advanced and perform refined functions, like voice search and image search (think Google Goggles) that occur so naturally on Android-based smartphones.

At an Instant Search event yesterday in the US, Google took the wraps off a number of new search functions, such as Voice Search for desktop computers. Just click the microphone icon that will appear alongside search boxes and say what you’re looking for. But you’ll need a Chrome browser to do this.

Voice Search on desktop takes advantage of Chrome’s Speech API and will be available to everyone using Chrome 11+ in English after it has rolled out over the next week. You’ll also need to make sure you have a microphone that works, whether it’s built into your computer or an external mic that you plug in.

Image Search for desktop is another new feature that shows Google has learned a lot from Google Goggles, where users were able to perform a search based on taking a photo on their smartphones.

To search using an image, go to images.google.com and just put your picture in the search box. There are many ways to do this. You can click the camera icon in the search box and upload a photo from your computer or paste the URL of an image from the web. You can also drag and drop pictures from webpages or your computer into the search box. To search images on the web even faster with just one click, you can download the Chrome or Firefox extensions.

“Search by image returns the best results for images that have related content already on the web, so you’re more likely to get relevant results for distinctive landmarks or paintings than you will for more unique photos, like your toddler’s latest finger painting. In addition to getting relevant results about your image, you can also find visually similar images or the same image in different sizes or resolutions,” said Johanna Wright, director, Search Product Management at Google.

Google has also sped up the image search process with new technology that leans heavily on the Instant Search technology that gives users suggestions for what they’re searching for as they type.

It introduced two new Chrome-based technologies using Instant: Google Images with Instant, which will be available in the coming months, and Instant Pages, which provides web pages that load instantly.

Google boosts mobile search capabilities

Seeing as a lot of the innovations were inspired by Google’s rapidly gained experience with its Android mobile operating system, it makes sense that Google reveals new additions to Android’s search capability – new icons that appear alongside local search to help users drill down for what they’re looking for and the ability to ‘build’ their search piece by piece.

These new mobile features are now available on www.google.com on Android (version 2.2+) and iOS (version 4.0+) in 40 languages.

To make it easier for people to search for what’s around them, Google has introduced new shortcuts to commonly searched local categories, like restaurants, coffee shops and bars, in the form of icons on the mobile Google homepage.

Shortcut icons appear at the bottom of the mobile homepage. Tap “More”, to select from additional popular categories like shopping, ATMs, gas stations, etc, a new part of its simplified Places homepage.

On the results page, you’ll see a map with markers for your current location and places around you. When you scroll through the results, the map remains at the top of the page and adjusts automatically to the listing you are looking at. That way, you can see the listing information while still getting location context from the map. Tapping on a result will quickly show you more about a place, including reviews and other useful details.

Another mobile improvement involves users being able to add suggested phrases to the search box and “build” their search piece by piece.

“This feature is already available on the Google Search app for Android and iOS devices and we’re now making this available on www.google.com from your mobile browser,” said Scott Huffman, director of engineering at Google.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com