The act of searching hasn’t really changed much in a long time. It’s hardly changed since Google arrived out of nowhere in the late 1990s and turned the world of web search upside down, by actually offering a search system that worked.
But technology has marched forward during the last decade. Our computers are changing, and it’s time that the way we search changed too.
Take a look at Google’s Inside Search page and you’ll see some of the innovations they’re working on right now.
One is search by image.
The text search string of old is replaced by an image search. Not necessarily for other images, but for information about the image you’ve already got. Drag in a photo of a famous place and you’ll see alternative views of it, along with historical background and official web links. It’s incredibly powerful, and requires no typing.
Another is voice search.
Once enabled in your browser, a little microphone icon appears at the right end of the Google.com text search box. Click it, and a little “Speak now” instruction appears. Say what you want to see, and hopefully Google will find it. This has been available on mobile devices for a little while, but it’s newer for desktop computers.
How do they do it? Well, it already has the massive computing power to search the internet and find what you want. It’s had that for years. But it now also has enough spare computing power to listen to your speech, convert it into text, and perform a search on that. Or to study the detail of an image, and work out what it depicts, and find relevant data. All within fractions of a second.
Why do they do it? Because, I suspect, Google is all too aware that computer hardware is changing. In particular, the humble keyboard is nearing the end of its days. The touch-screen computers of today have a virtual keyboard, and some of them are even quite nice to type on. But it’s so much simpler if you don’t have to. Hence the move towards an interface that doesn’t require any kind of typed input.
I think we’re going to see more of this in the coming years, and it’s something developers need to prepare for. Increasingly, consumers are going to be looking for easier ways to interact with software and the web. Speech is one of them, touch and gesture another. And there are probably several more that no-one’s started working on yet.