Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Shifting Tides: Google Borrows From Mobile for Latest Desktop Innovations

Two of Google’s three search announcements today were borrowed from the work it’s already done for mobile.

Image queries — where a user can ask Google to identify what’s depicted in a photo or drawing by pasting the image into the search box — came from the mobile image recognition app Google Goggles. And voice search — now available for any computer with a microphone — has already been widely available through Google’s Android operating system and its search and maps applications for other types of phones.

In past years, mobile was a second-class, cluttered, hobbled and constrained platform, but the emergence of the modern smartphone has been transformative. Now, technology and interfaces specially made for mobile are rejoining the rest of computing.

More than a year ago, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt began preaching the mantra “mobile first” to signal his company’s commitment to phone software development and global accessibility. Today’s announcements seem the clearest example of his words in action.

Sometimes it’s the constraints of mobile that prompt innovation. In many situations, especially on the go, it’s more natural to speak than to type, pointed out Mike Cohen, Google’s manager of speech technology. (It’s also safer when driving or walking.) Voice search may be less of an urgent need on the desktop, but it will likely be a convenient option for some users.

In other cases, the bundled features of smartphones have presented opportunities not available on a traditional computer. Since smartphones have cameras, Google was able to use their input to dream up its crazy Goggles feature, which identifies objects and landmarks by their shapes and translates menus in foreign languages. Now that kind of search will be available for images that have already been uploaded to a computer.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, Apple and Microsoft both showed off their upcoming operating systems, Lion and Windows 8, respectively. As my colleague Ina Fried noted, both Lion and Windows 8 feature immersive, full-screen apps and built-in app stores that bear a strong resemblance to the two companies’ mobile platforms.

Obviously, phones are still better for some tasks and full-screen computing devices are better for others. But if you want to have a top-of-the-line, cutting-edge experience, these days you’re better off using a mobile phone.

Image of Amit Singhal presenting at Google’s Inside Search event via Google.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus