Hands-on: Google’s iOS app paves the way for smarter searches

Google's iOS app takes a page from Android, laying the groundwork for a smarter virtual assistant.


Google is taking a page from Android in the latest update to its iOS search app.

When viewing a web page from within the app, users can now ask for more information with an “OK Google” voice command. Even if you don’t specify the subject of the search, Google will try to automatically detect it from the content on the page.

For instance, while reading a news story about the New York Yankees, you can say, “OK Google, what’s their record?” The app then loads an info card showing the Yankees’ record and AL East standings. Some other working queries include “When were they founded?” “When’s the game?” and “Who’s the first baseman?”

This type of search also works for noteworthy people (“Where was he born” while looking at a page on William Shakespeare) or locations (“What’s the weather in this place” or “How far away is this” when viewing a page on Orlando, Fla.)

While it’s impressive that Google can parse web page data this way, it’s hard to see how this feature would be useful on a regular basis. For one thing, specifying the subject during a voice search isn’t particularly burdensome, especially given the accuracy of Google’s voice recognition. Also, Google’s ability to answer direct questions is still pretty limited. For instance, asking “Who did they play last week?” still gives you last night’s score, and asking “How far away is this” on a business page with multiple locations may not give you any results at all.

Still, looking over at Android, we know Google has big ambitions for its page indexing capabilities. With Android M, Google is adding a feature called “Now on Tap,” which brings up info cards based on the content of whatever app you’re using. While texting a friend about dinner, for example, users can hold the home button to get restaurant suggestions and reservation links. Holding that button while reading an email about a movie might bring up a YouTube trailer and IMDb link.

Google won’t have that kind of reach in iOS, but we’ll likely see similar capabilities within the confines of the Google search app. As of June, Google has been letting other apps provide data directly inside the Google app, so one could imagine being able to book a restaurant reservation or create a Pinterest pin by voice as you’re browsing around. With Siri about to tout new smarts in iOS 9, Google needs all the artificial intelligence it can muster.

This story, "Hands-on: Google’s iOS app paves the way for smarter searches" was originally published by Macworld.