Google Instant goes live on mobile phones

Google mobile search now quickly guesses the search terms you're trying to type, along with search results for those guesses

Google Instant--that thing Google search does where it guesses what search terms you're in the process of typing in and displays search results accordingly--has now come to mobile phones--well, devices running Android 2.2 or Apple iOS 4.0, anyway.

Example (courtesy of Google): "If you type [anse], you should see [ansel adams] along with other predictions. Results for the first prediction appear automatically, and tapping on the other predictions will display those results. Pressing the enter key or the search button skips the predictions and will display results for exactly what you've typed." Check out the demo video.

When Google rolled out the "Instant" service for the desktop in September (and said it was soon coming to mobile) I was skeptical about how well it would work on wireless networks. That's because for every new letter you type in the search bar, the Google client has to hit up Google's search servers back home to generate new "guesses" and results. I wondered how reliable Instant could possibly be on mobile networks, which have limited capacity, and deliver things instantly only when network conditions are just right.

Well, after a few minutes of using the service on Sprint's 3G network, I'm surprised at how well it works. The instant search results and keyword guesses don't come in as fast as they do on the desktop, but it's still pretty fast. I will withhold judgement until I use the service in cellular dead zones, like my apartment.

Google seems to be aware of the limited factor of network speed: "Instant for mobile works best on 3G and Wi-Fi networks, but since the quality of any wireless connection can fluctuate, we've made it easy to enable or disable Google Instant without ever leaving the page," says a Google release. There's a "turn on" or "turn off" toggle at the bottom of the search page.

The benefit of this on mobile devices is that it takes some of the pain out of doing web searches on mobile devices, on which most of us want to type as little as possible. By constantly asking the user "Is this what you want? Is this what you want? Is this what you want?", and eventually arriving at the right answer, key strokes--and frustration--are saved.

If you have an Android 2.2 phone, go to google.com in your phone's browser and tap the Google Instant "Turn on" link beneath the search box (if you don't see the "Turn on" link, try waiting a moment and then refresh the page).

Google says Instant for Mobile is relies on a new AJAX and HTML5 implementation for mobile that dynamically updates the page with new results and eliminates the need to load a new page for each query. Right now the Instant service is available only for Android 2.2 ("Froyo") devices, and iPhones and iPods running iOS 4. More mobile platforms will be supported in the near future, Google says.

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Mark Sullivan

PC World (US online)
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