Google's just tweaked its mobile search functionality to add in a whole bunch of new features--basically going head-to-head with existing mobile services like Yelp, FourSquare and AroundMe--merely be adjusting its search engine.
Google's given its mobile browser version a serious make-over, and added in some very neat tweaks that result in a "redesigned local search experience on your phone." The two new killer features are a category-based local services feature, for quick access to the right information, and a behind-the-scenes tie-up with your desktop Google map usage so that you can integrate search results from the PC to your smartphone. The promo video does a tidy job of explaining it all:
The desktop Google Maps integration is the neatest part of this--it all happens in Google's servers, using your Google account to store the relevant items so that the data can seemingly pass between your smartphone and desktop without you having to do any syncing. It's gong to be pretty useful if you're one of nature's pre-planners, who likes to work out where you're going in advance, or for visiting unfamiliar places on a vacation.
Equally clever is the localized real-time search, which uploads your location from your phone to Google, so that you can find a nearby store using the categories search--it's Google's new spin on hyperlocal search. The geolocation works automatically once you've enabled it, having logged into your Google account. That makes the system incredibly powerful, but it's not clear, from a privacy position, how often the positional data is fired up to Google's database.
This looks like bad news for services like FourSquare, or AroundMe--Google's essentially moving right in on their location-based services turf. But is it really bad news? A bit like Google's attempt at entering the real-time trends game the other day, this new localized search feels almost like a front-end patch plastered over Google's main search engine functions, making it almost...but not quite as good as the competition. If you're using a dedicated location based service app, you'll find things like restaurant recommendations already gathered together in a list from a reputable company, whereas in Google you'd have to first search for such a list, process it mentally, then search inside Google maps for the same restaurants while on your desktop, "star" select the relevant ones as favorites, then access them from inside Google mobile. A similar comparison can be made to an augmented reality app like Layar, which can show you in real-time where the nearby recommended (or just nearby) services are, and do so in a much more accessible way than via Google's mobile system.
While these services seem very neat, and no doubt they'll be used by many smartphone users wandering alien streets, it just doesn't seem like Google's putting its heart into them--its almost like the search giant is just trying to grasp at trendy new technology so as to make money from it right away. These new implementations are thus slightly clunky from a user perspective, they utilize the same look and feel Google slaps onto everything (which is now beginning to feel very dated and user-hostile when compared to the plethora of slick-designed LBS apps launching for smartphones) and their full smartphone-integration powers will probably only be best experienced when using an Android devices.
[via Google Blog]