Google called a high-profile press conference today, and used it to unveil not one big feature, but a number of current and future tweaks to its service. The list was impressive, so we've rounded up some of the cleverest tech for you. But man, Google needs to hone its presentation style.
Real Time Search
This was the big take-away from the presentation: Google finally officially admitted its long-suspected desperation to get hold of real time Web-search data. And it did more than that too--it unveiled it as a live, in-service product on both cell phones and desktop browsers.
The system is a progression of the tech that's driven Google's search engine for years. The company started with monthly Web trawls to sample for search query-matching data, progressing quickly as the Net exploded to weekly, daily then hourly crawls over the billions of Web pages on the Net. Until today, the fastest you could get a Google query in a live data sense was about five minutes. But now it's down to seconds--almost as soon as a relevant page is published online, it will be included in your search query as a rolling-update.
The system is called "Latest" and it has one more surprise: It includes Tweets.
During the presentation, Google placed a lot of significance on Twitter's power to break news and supply newly relevant info on hyper-local news events. Facebook, announced as a Google partner today, also will be included in the real-time search results with data from its public-accessible Pages system. Microsoft's rival Bing search engine integrated these features to its search offering last week to much fanfare (the rumble is on). Another new partner: MySpace.
But it's clear that Google's execs have tapped Twitter as the real winner in real-time status, despite Facebooks half-billion userbase, as these two were presented right at the end. You might think that's about as real-time as you can get, but the team noted they won't stop until the speed of light around the world is the only barrier to getting real time search data.
Google Goggles: Image-Driven Search
Earlier today, driven by a comprehensive CNBC piece on Google broadcast this last weekend, news slipped out about an experimental and amazing feature called Google Goggles. From a user point of view it's terrifically simple. Say you see a sign on the street for something you'd like to know more about: You'd snap a pic of it and send it off to Google Goggles. That's where the clever bit happens, of course. Somewhere in Google's powerful server farms some wicked image recognition algorithm then paws its way over your pic, and then roams a database of pre-captured images. Then it returns to you a pretty typical Google search response list.
If you're unexcited by this, then you're missing the point. Goggles is a technology that could take augmented reality into the next-generation of real usefulness. Imagine how it would work: You're using an AR browser or specific app, and you come across something interesting in the field of view. Currently you have to hope that someone somewhere has generated a geo-tagged point of interest that corresponds to what you're looking at. But with Goggles, you could rely on Google to do the work for you. It closes the technology loop from Virtual Reality (circa 1990s) to Augmented Reality (circa 2010) and inserts Google into the circle with Googling Real Reality (circa Minority Report). And before you get worried about Google matching your face in online pictures with this tech, don't: Google's chosen to exclude faces from the system for privacy reasons, for now.
A great deal of time was spent talking about Google's automated translation powers. Google voice search in multiple languages in the iPhone app was used to show off its current prowess. But the future of the system was demoed as well, and it's amazing: Google plans to let you speak into the phone in, say, English and have its cloud server auto-translate it into, for example, Spanish--and then to speak it back to you out loud. That bypasses Google's search engine, and turns it into Douglas Adam's babel fish or Star Trek's Universal Translator.
Embedded into smartphones--devices Google notes you have less than one meter away most of the time--it could turn Google into the World's language translator.
Google also unveiled a tweak to its local search powers on smartphones via Google mobile that'll annoy many a location-based service provider: What's nearby? Essentially Google's app works out where you are, and provides you with a list of services--keyword prompted or not--that are in the vicinity, and it'll even include things like popularity ratings.
Google Loves Apple
Another big take-away from today's PR event was the promotion of Apple devices: Many product demos were done on iPhones, and the main notebook used to present data was a MacBook. Pretty surprising, given that Google has its own smartphone system in Android. Maybe Google was trying to cozy-up to the market leader in the hope of working with it more closely, without particularly admitting as much? Could be.
Google Needs Hollywood
From the patchy (Buffering...) live feed, to mistakes in the tech demos to the badly-polished and different-designed presenter stands on the stage (nice piece of tape there on the overhead). Hire a stage producer, or at least a props manager--there must be someone in California with some experience with stagecraft. This, for sure, was no Apple event...despite the actual honest-to-goodness use of "boom!" as a punctuation at one point. Steve Jobs should copyright that.