Microsoft fires back at Google with Bing contextual search on Android

"Snapshots on Tap" echoes a feature coming with the next version of Android

Microsoft has pre-empted a new feature Google plans to include in the next version of Android with an update released Thursday for the Bing Search app that lets users get information about what they're looking at by pressing and holding their device's home button.

Called Bing Snapshots, the feature is incredibly similar to the Now on Tap functionality Google announced for Android Marshmallow at its I/O developer conference earlier this year. Bing will look over a user's screen when they call up a Snapshot and then provide them with relevant information along with links they can use to take action like finding hotels at a travel destination.

screen shot 2015 08 20 at 11.55.11 am Microsoft

Movie information provided by Bing Snapshots.

For example, someone watching a movie trailer can press and hold on their device's home button and pull up a Bing Snapshot that will give them easy access to reviews of the film in question, along with a link that lets them buy tickets through Fandango.

Google Now On Tap, which is slated for release with Android Marshmallow later this year, will offer similar features with a user interface that would appear to take up less screen real estate right off the bat, at least in the early incarnations Google showed off at I/O.

The new functionality highlights one of the major differences between Android and iOS: Microsoft can replace system functionality originally controlled by Google Now and use that to push its own search engine and virtual assistant. Microsoft is currently beta testing a version of its virtual assistant Cortana on Android for release later this year as well.

A Cortana app is also in the cards for iOS, but Apple almost certainly won't allow a virtual assistant to take over capabilities from Cortana, especially since Google Now remains quarantined inside the Google app on that mobile platform.

All of this comes as those three companies remained locked in a tight battle to out-innovate one another in the virtual assistant market as a means of controlling how users pull up information across their computers and mobile devices. For Microsoft and Google, there's an additional incentive behind the improvements: driving users to their respective assistants has the potential to boost use of the connected search engines.

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