Google’s Golden Thread
July 18, 2011 § 3 Comments
Many opinions have already been voiced about where Android is going and what Google’s master plan is. The majority of these seem to agree that search is the core thread that is being sewn through every product Google builds – with Android being no exception. It’s something that Google are at the forefront of and so it makes sense for it to be in as many places as possible. What hasn’t been looked at as closely however, is how we’ve been able to propagate this golden thread by using their mobile OS.
An interesting study carried out recently found that most people now recall where information is located as opposed to the actual information. A search if you will. It seems our years of Googling (a bona fide dictionary word) has shifted our patterns of behaviour at the most subtle levels. An example cited by the authors illustrates the point perfectly. Ask yourself the question “How many countries have flags with only one colour?”
Was your first thought to think about the actual countries and flags? Or did it involve a visit to that omnipresent answer, Google?
The way we think about things like these has been both caused and affected by the way we now use search. Google completely gets this and has carried on exploiting it by putting that immense power in our pockets. Android has been built around this core thread and is hugely effective at applying it. Instilling search into the OS at the most fundamental layers has two major effects. One is time-related. We always have access to any information we want – I would guess very few reading this post do not have their phone within touching distance right now. The other is location. By feeding this data directly to the Android OS, it has a very good idea of where we are and preferentially uses this when we search for anything; augmenting our physical world. If you were to fire up your mobile browser right now, chances are your homepage would be a mobile version of http://www.google.com (time – available within seconds), and the GPS icon at the top of your phone would magically appear (location). And yes, these both also occur on iOS but the integration at other levels of the OS aren’t as tight. For example, searching straight from the Android homescreen leads to Google web results. iOS on the other hand requires you to go to the browser to do the same thing.
Larry Page recently said that they were now “computing answers” instead of links. Our mobile engagement is one of the reasons this is happening and Android has played a major part. Data usage by Android users has been seen to be up to double that of iPhone users. It’s been argued that this is partly down to the “aggressive hardware choices” made by handset manufacturers. Things like higher resolution cameras leading to larger file sizes. Widgets that are easily accessible from Android homescreens are another reason and another example of a deeper threaded search mechanism.
Instantly accessible widgets allow us to search for anything we might need but remembering how to find something is becoming much more important to us than the content itself. By looking for any sort of information using our phones we are propagating that golden thread. The information is out there but we’re constantly asking ourselves, how do I get there? It seems the answer to that, right now, is via our pockets.