Those looking for Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) next-generation search functionality-the mobile, social and location-based “contextual discovery” at Google’s Inside Search event June 14-may have been disappointed.
What attendees, search experts and industry watchers got was more of the same, even though some of that same was impressive and perhaps critical to Google’s push to stay ahead of rivals such as Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Bing in the search market it already commands.
Among the litany of new search features were Google voice and image search on the desktop, two separate features that let users search the Web by speaking into their computer microphones and by entering links to photos into a search box, respectively.
Perhaps the most important perks were Google Instant Pages and Google Images with Instant, two features that advance the predictive search meme Google started last September with Google Instant predictive search. Images with Instant brings images to the fore as users type queries in the search box. Instant Pages renders Web pages as users type their queries.
IDC analyst Hadley Reynolds said Google leveraged a number of significant prior innovations to change the way users interact with search. Google Voice Search on the desktop leverages Google’s 230 billion-word speech recognition vault used to power the same feature on today’s smartphones, and integrates the well-trod Google Translate.
Google Image Search on the desktop employs Google Goggles visual search technology. Google Instant Pages and Google Images with Instant are built on the Instant technology before them.
Despite the prior pedigree, none of these features appears to be home run. They all aim to tackle hard search user experience challenges.
“Voice search has been flaky, although Google has the traffic volume to be able to fix many of the most glaring problems,” Reynolds said.
“Image search is notoriously, laughably inaccurate, and searchers may find that feature a waste of time. And what is the point of really fast rendering of the wrong pages coming from inaccurate search results? Google has announced some great directions; it’s now up to them to prove that searchers will truly benefit from the new features.”
Sullivan Unimpressed by Inside Search
Perhaps that is a big reason why nothing at Inside Search excited Search Engine Land Editor Danny Sullivan, who has been following Google since its inception.
Sullivan suggested Google Voice Search on the desktop may be a clever way of helping people who don’t use Android phones, or Google Voice Search on the iPhone, to get a sense of what they’re missing.
As for the Instant enhancements, Sullivan questioned whether consumers truly notice what is happening behind the scenes to speed up their Google searches.
“Will they even realize that going from Google to another Website seems faster than say going from Bing to another Website? But perhaps subconsciously, they will-which might keep them coming back to Google.”
Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling shared Sullivan’s sentiment overall.
“All of this stuff was in a way incremental and not things that mainstream users will tap every day,” Sterling told eWEEK. Voice search on the desktop, he allowed, might be used by a sizable minority of people tired of typing searches.
One area Sterling believes might grab users’ fancy is Google’s mobile search enhancements, where Google is now surfacing new shortcut icons for restaurants, gas stations and other shops that appear at the bottom of the mobile homepage on Android smartphones and Apple iPhones.
When users scroll through the results, the map of those places remains at the top of the page and adjusts automatically to the listing a user is looking at, providing listing info and location context.
Reynolds said such features set Google up for dominance in the mobile sector as “text search on PC fades into the sunset of innovation and graphical, multimodal search patterns arrive on the smartphone.”
As for the contextual discovery technologies-which target users with results based on their personal tastes and Web activity-nary a peep was heard.
Sterling agreed the contextual discovery innovation isn’t yet happening, though he noted nearby location tools and recommendation engine provide the foundation. “The way forward is there; the execution is just a bit muted at present,” he said.