Every so often, an app comes along that changes the game in it’s respective category. Shazam revolutionized how people identified songs. Instagram changed the way people capture and share photos. Evernote made it incredible easy to share notes across multiple platforms. While it’s become increasingly difficult for apps to change how people do certain things, it’s all the more impressive when one does.
When it was originally released for the iPad in 2010, Google Search certainly wasn’t a game changer. It provided a easy way to use the world’s favorite search engine, but it definitely wasn’t a replacement for Safari. However, with the release of version 2.5, Google Search now offers a voice search functionality that rivals Apple’s baked in voice function, Siri. Join us after the jump to learn more about Google’s new streaming voice search.
It’s All About the Voice Search
Google submitted the updated version of it’s search app for approval early this past August, and Apple certainly took it’s time pushing out the update to the App Store (just under two months). It was speculated by some that Apple may not approve the updated app because the voice search functionality offered in the app was very similar to Siri. After spending some time using the new voice function, I can certainly understand Apple’s hesitation.
The new search functionality operates very similarly to the Google Now function found in Android’s Jelly Bean OS. When you’re on the search (main) page, simply tap the Voice button in the bottom row of icons and a Siri-like notification sound will chime, alerting you that you’ve activated the function. As you speak, the app attempts to mirror your words in real time (sometimes faltering or changing previous words based on the context of your search). Once the search is registered, a second notification sound chimes and your results are displayed.
For the sake of transparency, I don’t have a lot of experience using Siri. I’m currently the owner of an iPhone 4 and iPad 2, so I’ve never been afforded much opportunity to try out Apple’s much touted iOS feature. However, I don’t need much experience with Siri to know that Google Search’s streaming voice search is incredibly well done.
For starters, search results are insanely fast. Every time I asked voice search a question (e.g. what’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?) I’m provided an answer almost instantaneously. Throughout my trials I did comes across some accuracy issues. For instance, a colleague used a term I wasn’t familiar with, so I took the opportunity to use the voice search function to find a definition. Try as I might, I could not get the app to understand what I was trying to say. All in all though, the few issues I ran into sporadically weren’t too big of an annoyance.
Depending on what you search for, you’ll get your search results presented in one of two ways. Inquires about weather, sports scores/games, movie times and information, unit conversions (e.g. number of cups in a liter), directions, and store/restaurant information will provide information cards and/or voice result feedback with the information you requested. On the flip side, if you search for something more in-depth, or not within the previously mentioned categories, you’ll receive standard Google search results.
When searching for weather, a beautifully minimalistic info card will display various points of information, including the conditions, current temperature, precipitation, humidity and wind. Below said information is a graph that displays the information as it fluctuates during the course of the day, as you can toggle the graph to show similar information about precipitation and the wind. Finally, a five-day forecast displays at the bottom, and a day can be tapped to display more detailed information.
Unlike results that are displayed on information cards, searching for a place (e.g. restaurant or store) will display a list of results in the same manner as Google’s web version, including a Google Maps graphic with pinpoints. What’s very interesting though, is that tapping on any of the pinpoints or a Directions button will open Safari and display directions using Google Maps instead of Apple Maps (a feature some will love while others will not care for).
Viewing Web Pages
When you tap on a link in the search results page, a secondary page will slide into place to display the web page you selected. When you’re ready to return to your search results page, simply flick right anywhere on screen (or tap the Google logo in the top left corner). If you wish to return to the web page, flick left from the right edge of the screen.
I really love this method of displaying results, as I don’t have to worry about losing my search results (I’m the type of person that always opens a link from the search results page in a new tab because I just don’t like using the back button). The only issue with this method is that you’re unable to view more than a single page at once. But that’s a minor issue when you consider that Google Search isn’t meant to be a browser replacement.
The Bottom Line
From my experience, the iPad version of Google Search isn’t quite the game changer as it is on the iPhone. While the overall experience is top notch, the notion of using an app that’s dedicated to searching Google on a tablet doesn’t quite have the same necessity as I found with using the iPhone. On the iPad, I’m more than happy to use a browser for all my search needs.
Nevertheless, the voice search functionality is a great addition to an already well designed app. While I was unable to touch upon some of the other great features included in Google Search, I strongly recommend that you download the app (free in the App Store) and give it a trial run. Perhaps you’ll find yourself using Safari (or another dedicated browser) quite a bit less.