'Search is still in its infancy,' says Google CFO Patrick Pichette

Google has 'relentless' optimism over the possibilities of search, he says

The idea that the technology behind search is a done deal is far from the truth, according to Google, as the company appears to still have plenty of tricks up its sleeve to improve it.

"Everybody's mindset is that search is a solved problem," said Google Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette, during a Q&A session Thursday at Morgan Stanley's Technology, Media and Telecom conference in San Francisco. "But the optimism at Google of seeing the possibilities of what search can do is relentless," he said, adding later that the technology is "still in its infancy."

Knowledge Graph and Google Now were highlighted during the event as two recent product rollouts that could point the way to how search could become even more personalized in the future. Knowledge Graph, for instance, launched last year as a way to put users' searches in context and deliver more tailored results, while Google Now also launched in 2012 as a mobile app to give Android users personalized information on the fly.

But finding new ways to deliver direct answers to users' search queries rather than just a string of websites is a major engineering goal at Google, Pichette said.

He gave the example of searching for the tallest mountain in Africa, but instead of returning a long list of websites, the answer, Mount Kilimanjaro, would be prominently displayed to the user -- an idea the company began investing in a couple years ago and is still working to improve through Knowledge Graph.

Meanwhile, Google Now's ability to give preemptive information to people as they go about their day without their asking for it could also be expanded, though details on this concept were sketchy. Still, "the power of search is that there are still so many areas that we believe are completely unchartered," Pichette said.

Google Now was updated earlier this month to place its functionalities front and center on users' smartphones.

He was also asked whether the company is looking at launching new apps or search tools exclusively for its Android mobile OS or its growing line of hardware devices such as Chromebook, but Pichette said that targeting users, not device platforms, would remain the company's focus.

Google Maps' availability on both iOS and Android was cited as an example of that strategy. "We're going to focus on the user," Pichette said. "It's too early to say how [the tools] will be disseminated."

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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Zach Miners

IDG News Service
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