All Google, all the time, everywhere

We all use Google. Well, maybe not Bill Gates, but that's about it. Now, Google is hoping to become an even bigger part of our everyday lives.

The key to this is Google's three new search features: real-time search, location-based service and augmented reality.

Think about it: Google has primarily been about computer-based search. You sit at your PC and find what you want on the Web. But if you put those three new features together, where do they shine the best? On mobile devices. With Google's Android powering phones and Chrome OS on netbooks, I see the company making a preemptive strike to take over mobile computing.

Real-time search will clearly be useful for anyone who wants to know what's happening right now, but I couldn't help noticing that one example Google gave when it announced the new functionality was that beyond just helping you find out where you could get an H1N1 flu shot, it could also show you how long the lines were. In other words, it's a perfect mobile application.

Many of the real-time updates will be coming from social networking sites. Facebook, MySpace, FriendFeed, Jaiku, Twitter and Identi.ca are all on board. But wouldn't it be handy to know where your friends are when you're out on the town?

Of course, it helps to know where you are as well. That's where LBS ( location-based service ) comes in. Today, LBS tends to rely on a mobile device's GPS and compass. Higher-end devices have both, and others will have them soon. With this mapping information, your Google-enabled smartphone not only can tell you where your friend is, based on her real-time social network update; it can also say where you are in relation to her.

Let's take it a step further. Say you don't recognize where you are. No big deal; with your mobile device's camera, Google Goggles "looks" at your surroundings and tells you what's what. Oh, look, Google just displayed on your camera's viewer the name of the Chinese restaurant where your friend is as you passed the lens over it. Welcome to the world of AR (augmented reality).

Chances are you don't know a lot about LBS and AR. You're going to. Google has decided they're ready for prime time, and it's putting its considerable resources behind them.

Some apps from other companies already make use of the LBS/AR combination. These include the Layar Reality Browser and Mobilizy's Wikitude. Just like Google, both use a Web browser metaphor to present information to you. For example, with Layar, you can take a Beatles-oriented guided tour of London's Abbey Road using your mobile phone.

To this kind of functionality, Google can add its real-time social networking information. So if you were touring my hometown of Asheville, N.C., you could not only view information about the Biltmore house on Wikipedia, but you could also find out what your friends had to say about the place after their visit a week earlier.

Getting the idea? When you put it all together — high-speed 3G/4G/WiMax mobile devices with LBS, AR and real-time, personal news — we're talking about an entirely new computer experience.

I don't know where it's all going. All I know is that Google's smart-search-enabled mobile devices will change the way we see computing in ways unmatched since the Web changed everything in the early '90s.

Oh, yes, I also know that back then, Bill Gates didn't see the Internet as being all that important. It took about two years for Microsoft to realize that the Web had changed everything. If Microsoft and other companies don't follow Google quickly, they may not have two years to recover. We're in for some interesting times, my friends.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection — and we liked it! He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Computerworld (US)
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