Google's new 'instant' search returns results as users type

Pulls fast one on rivals

Google has announced that its famous search homepage will from today return searches in real time using a new feature called 'Google Instant'.

Accessible using PC-based versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Apple's Safari and Opera, Google Instant works rather like a form of predictive text system for search results, with returns appearing and refining as the user types.

There is no longer any need to hit the 'return' key, although doing so will return searches based on Google's established algorithms. For some days, however, users might need to be signed into a Google account to experience the feature.

"Feelings of euphoria and weightlessness are normal. Do not be alarmed," read a statement under the new search bar when the service went live to coincide with the global launch event in San Francisco.

According to Google, the new feature will save each user from two to five seconds per search. This is based on the reckoning that people spend nine seconds entering a search term and 15 seconds assessing which one to click on. According to Google, this amounts to 3.5 billion seconds saved per day.

Google claims that its servers return results at a speed of around 300ms on average, which means that the results appear on the screen instantly, hence the name.

A major benefit is that users can see search returns instantly as they type, giving them a sense of whether they are picking the correct search term. Search returns can also be accessed one after the other with the down arrow key 'scroll-to-search' feature.

Be warned. Slow or malfunctioning Internet connections will cause Instant to turn off. Otherwise, Google says the new feature will not make any noticeable difference on average connections. Google Instant is not yet available on mobile browsers.

"Google works seamlessly as it always has. All it does is speed you up," said a company staffer during the presentation.

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John E Dunn

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