Google says its new instant search feature will be coming to mobile devices sometime in the fall. But opinion is divided on whether it will be a timesaving tool or a frustrating flop.
As Dave Parrack noted yesterday, the feature (which is on the desktop version of Google.com and being extended to other countries) takes the existing auto-suggestion feature and applies it to results itself. That means that as you type each letter of your query, Google lists the results that best match what you’ve typed so far.
When it works, it works great: as long as Google picks up what you are looking for, it does save time. In fact Google predicts it will save a total of 350 million hours a year (between us all that is.)
When it doesn’t work, it’s just distracting as your eyes are drawn to a series of results. For example, a British user that doesn’t type quick enough gets shown results for PayPal, the Post Office and Portal 2 before getting to the porn listings.
At the moment, the feature doesn’t work on devices running the designated mobile edition of Google: they still give suggested search terms instead. But Google has demonstrated it on an Android device, while saying it will be available on mobile devices “later this fall”.
The pros of this are clear: typing is usually slower on a mobile device, meaning there’s more chance that you’ll get the “right” result before you finish typing.
But there are also downsides. One is that on devices such as the iPhone that use a virtual keyboard, the tool may need rejigging to make sure the keyboard isn’t blocking out the results suggestion box.
Another potential drawback is that, compared with a standard Google search (user sends search term to Google, Google sends results to user), a search under Google Instant effective means data goes back and forth every time the user types another character. That simply increases the number of instances where a slow or patchy connection could become noticeable, and the last thing Google wants is for searching to feel frustrating.
To be fair, the mobile edition of Google does cope with being able to deliver and update search term suggestions as you type, so the problem is manageable in principle. Whether that changes in practice when you add the extra data that comes with full search results remains to be seen.