If you've picked up an iPhone or Android handset lately, you've probably noticed that Google's browser-based Web apps have been overhauled in recent weeks with respect to design and features. This coincides a bit with the rollout of Google+, and the design of Google's sites have taken on a more uniform look and feel to match the fledgling social network. Google can't help but continually tinker with its browser-based tools, with search being the one it seems to tinker with the most.
Google announced on Friday that it has refreshed the browser-based search tools for iOS and Android 3.1+ devices. This is separate from the actual search application available to both platforms. Instead, this relies on HTML5 magic to make everything work and look pretty at the same time.
Google explained in a blog post, "We've simplified the layout of search results pages and increased the size of page contents like text, buttons, and other touch targets to make it faster and easier to browse and interact with search results in portrait or landscape view.
"The search button located below the search box provides quick access to specific types of results like Images, Videos, Places, Shopping, and more. Just tap to open the search menu and select an option to see results in one category."
Of course, I had to take the new search tools for a spin to see if they've really been improved, or simply shuffled around.
I directed the Safari browser of my iPad to Google.com and performed a search for my favorite guitar, the Gibson Les Paul. Google Instant took over and delivered results before I had put the "P" on "Paul."
Sponsored results still appear at the top, but the results are spread out, with a lot more white space in between the text. The text is definitely larger and easier to read. In the older version, the text of search results could look diminutive. The added white space means that the results stretch further down each Web page, though, and it takes longer to scroll to the bottom. I do like that the related search terms have been moved up just to the right of the first set of results, so if you accidentally searched for the wrong thing, you can quickly search for something else with but a tap of the finger.
The real trick, however, is how Google is handling search refinement to other mediums. Below the search bar, there's a new tool that says: "search." Press it, and Google.com displays a drop-down menu of ways to refine your search to images, videos, YouTube, and about a dozen others. The drop-down menus include little icons to help you see quickly what it is you are searching for.
Selecting any of these items instantly refines the results to show what you selected. In my example, this means a lot of pictures of Gibson Les Pauls (it's hard not to fall in love with the Black Beauty). You can jump between image, video, and other search types nearly instantly with this tool, and its pretty handy.
Changing gears, I performed a search for "pizza." Now, I live in New Jersey, not too far from New York City. Pizzerias are as prevalent as fire hydrants. Most often, all you need to do in Jersey is drive around the block to find a slice of good pizza pie, but I wanted to see what Google had to say anyway.
The first result was the pizzeria closest to my house, a whole two blocks away, followed by all the others in my neighborhood. The search results offered plenty of links to contact information, addresses (with maps), menus, and so on. There was still plenty of noise in these results, however. Using the drop-down search tool, I selected "Places." This really refined the results to just the restaurants nearest to where I live, and got rid of all the junky results (who really needs to read the Wikipedia definition for pizza???).
I performed a similar set of searches on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and met with pretty much the same results.
Are these tools better? Well, they *feel* better. I am not a fan of lots of white space, but the text is bigger and more readable, and the ability to sift through different search types more quickly is appreciated.
In sum, I'd say it feels more like using a search application, that simply using a Web site called Google.com.
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