I spent 15 minutes using Google's Instant Previews for mobile search tool on my Droid X last night.
I came away convinced that the tool would get more traction on Android and Apple handsets than it would on desktop version, which Google introduced last November to enhance its Instant predictive search technology.
It's not that Instant Previews on the desktop doesn't work. It's very good for what it is, but I think the Google Instant satisfies most desktop users' needs for faster search. Instant Previews may be more for power users. I search a lot on Google, and I don't even use them.
Like the desktop version, Instant Previews for Android 2.2+ and Apple iOS 4.0+ smartphones and tablets lets users see and compare search results before they click on them by tapping a magnifying glass next to each result.
When you tap the tiny icon, thumbnail previews of search results Web pages pop out, and you can swipe left to right to navigate through them and pick one you like:
This is a joy for tiny smartphone screens, where search is miniature enough to be a joke, especially for Website publishers who haven't fashioned mobile-optimized Websites to make our lives easier.
And yet it's exactly because of the small screens we use to search that Google Instant Previews on mobile may not gain a lot of adoption.
The user experience is to tap a tiny, tiny magnifying glass, one that most people would easily miss if they didn't know to look for it. This wouldn't be the first feature to lie dormant due to lack of need or visibility.
In Google's eternal quest to add unobtrusive features, some of its new search features barely register to users' eyes.
SearchWiki, which provided an outlet for users to vote results up or down and comment on them, comes to mind.
Google Social Search buried results at the bottom of results, though Google just changed that to surface them higher up.
And Sidewiki? Google said people still use it, but I'm quite sure the number is small. Too much superfluous stuff.
One thing Instant Previews isn't is superfluous, at least not to me.
When I clicked on "pizza," "restaurants," "cars" and several other searches in my Droid X's Android browser, I saw the magnifying glass that signals Instant Previews and saw a great little panorama of mini results, some bad, some good, but all small.
Mobile searching takes some patience, no doubt, but Instant Previews helps a lot.
See how Instant Previews works on mobile devices in this demo video and tell me what you think of the new features: