Get out your cell phone and text "Weather San Francisco, CA" (or wherever you live) to 466-453. Rather quickly, you'll get tomorrow's forecast.
Now look at those six digits again on your keypad. That number? It spells "Google." The online advertising giant has every intention of dominating your mobile-Web experience the same way it has the desktop Internet, whether or not you pay between $179 (subsidized) and $400 for the splashy T-Mobile G1 powered by Google's Android.
Google is gaining market share throughout the mobile industry — regardless of your carrier or how basic your phone may be — with a set of innovative services that such companies as Yahoo and Microsoft are struggling to match. Let's say you don't want to pay the extra $15 a month that Verizon charges for unlimited mobile-Web access, or you have a spotty connection. Google lets you perform searches using SMS, which is very reliable. Stock quotes, flight info, sports scores? A simple query, such as the weather example above, will get you these data nuggets. "SMS allows you to get a lot of the most common structured forms of information out of Google," says Sumit Agarwal, lead product manager for Google Mobile.
In January, California will join the states that have made it illegal to text while driving. Google's voice-powered service, GOOG-411, is great for hands-free access to local information. Call 800-GOOG-411 and the system prompts you to tell it where you are and what you want. You can even have it send directions via a text message.
Google's GrandCentral service gives you one master phone number to hand out and then lets you manage your communications in a variety of cool ways. You can route a caller to a specific phone or flag someone with priority status so you receive their calls anywhere; pick up while the caller is still leaving a message; and manage your voice mail, including receiving notifications via email or text and having them transcribed so they can be saved forever.
Fire up an iPhone and Google's mobile ambitions become quite apparent. The company wants to offer an irresistible mobile-intelligent version of the desktop Google experience. Google's iPhone search option is front and center. Start to enter a word and you begin getting results before you're even done typing — a huge time-saver. You can also drill down into a rich suite of Google services: Translate, Talk, and YouTube, to name a few.
Luckily, you don't need the coolest and latest device to use a bunch of services. Maps, Mail, Calendar, and Reader work in some form on a large number of handsets, but they can do so much more on a smartphone. With Maps, I love that you can get turn-by-turn driving directions and traffic info without having to enter where you are, because Google can figure it out even without GPS, by triangulating your position using Wi-Fi and cell towers.
So why would Google create its own phone platform? To take these services even further. For instance, the G1 includes a compass. Point in any direction to see maps of those streets. Android is also a lab to explore what the world looks like when all these apps will work together. Theoretically, Google will be able to analyze traffic, see you're running 10 minutes late to an appointment, and prompt you to send a message to the person you're meeting. "As you bring these different pieces together, the experience changes dramatically and usage skyrockets," Agarwal says.
He's not kidding. Google reports that users do 50 times more data queries with a smartphone than a basic one. Just type 466-453 and join the ranks of data-driven mobile Google addicts.
Go to FastCompany.TV for exclusive video of Scoble interviewing Google's Sumit Agarwal.
A version of this article appeared in the December/January 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.