Google's Latest Mobile Play: Defending Its Turf From Apps

Quick Search Box Gives Android a Leg Up on IPhone

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Google wants to own the search experience across every mobile media platform, and its latest offering is a universal search box that lets users of Android-based smartphones look for apps, contact information and web content right from the device's home screens.

Android's Quick Search Box: Search without ever leaving the home screen of your phone.
Android's Quick Search Box: Search without ever leaving the home screen of your phone.
This means users never have to leave their phone's home page or open a web browser to look up stock quotes, weather or a flight's status. The Quick Search Box,as it's called, also ranks search results by what a user has searched for and has used most often. Android users can also search and call contacts by voice with a tap of the microphone button next to the query box.

For Google, this is a move meant to help it maintain its search dominance in a new channel: mobile. Google wants to be the conduit to the information people are looking for -- its search business is its most important revenue source. But the more people turn to mobile apps to help them find information, the less important Google potentially becomes. The fear is that those pesky little apps could erode Google's importance.

However, if the Quick Search Box works well, it could be a sticky feature that makes users less reliant on specific apps to satisfy their queries. Instead of going to a restaurant-finder app to figure out where the best Chinese food is in Portland, Android users can choose from a variety of search results to get that answer without ever having to navigate beyond their phone's home page. For developers (and the brands they build for), it could mean users end up relying on apps less for navigational and informational tasks but more for other utilities, such as transactions or communication. App developers will have to insert a code to show up in QSB queries, as Google will not crawl the entire universe of Android apps.

QSB also gives Android a leg up on the iPhone, whose similar universal search feature only serves up results based on the content that's stored locally on the phone. If you're looking for the phone number of someone already in your address book, the iPhone search box is very adept, but if you're looking for the current weather forecast for Los Angeles, you're out of luck. Google already has an app for the iPhone that performs a similar voice search function for the web; the big differences are that the Android's Quick Search Box lives on the phone's home screen and can search content stored on the handset and downloaded apps.

Future Android phones will ship with QSB if they run on the latest release of the Android operating system. Current Android users will be able to access this feature if they receive an over-the-air software update from T-Mobile, currently the only U.S. carrier that sells Android-based phones.

Lately, Google has rolled out some significant redesigned search experiences for the cellphone, but this latest effort has the best potential of reinforcing Google as the dominant mobile search provider. With the search box right on the home page, it inevitably becomes top-of-mind for Android users seeking information; if QSB works well, why would anyone go through the trouble of typing yahoo.com or bing.com in their web browser?

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