Google taps new screens

16 October 2012

NEW YORK: Google, the online giant, is working on a range of projects seeking to extend the role of its search engine beyond PCs and mobile phones, in an indication as to how digital media use may evolve.

The company is currently assessing the possibility of creating screens that could be built into kitchen walls, dining tables and equivalent surfaces, offering features like voice- or touch-activated interaction.

Google Glass, the eyewear frames hosting a small screen, have been displayed in prototype form and mark another step in this direction. The firm is considering similar ideas for items such as watches. (Warc subscribers can read a Trends Snapshot on next-gen eyewear, including Google Glass, here.)

"If we take it to the next step, which we're excited about, Google and the information I need is right here in the room with me," Scott Huffman, Google's engineering director, mobile search, told the New York Times.

"As we're talking, we just say, 'Hey, Google, blah blah blah,' and it comes up on a screen or tells you the answer."

Google has discovered that mobile search levels peak during mealtimes, meaning most visitors are seeking information at a time when wireless devices, not a PC, are the most convenient.

Among these users, basic enquiries like "How tall is the Status of Liberty" or "How old is the earth?" are more common than their desktop counterparts.

In September, Google launched a voice-activated search app for mobile devices using its own Android operating system and for Apple's iPhone.

This tool lets users ask a question solely by speaking, rather than by typing an entry. They can then listen as Google's system automatically reads them the answer using a "vaguely robotic" female voice.

The goal behind this move was that people can then remain part of a conversation when looking for information. Google's online search results also now often provide a panel containing answers to quick, factual questions, to speed up this process.

Amit Singhal, the company's senior vice president for search, suggested that while consumers were used to discovering answers via, considerable growth potential exists.

"It's still somewhat awkward when you see that at a dinner party," Singhal told the New York Times. "The key to the future is how can you make such conversations socially even more normal?"

Apple, the electronics group, has also made moves in this space with Siri, its voice-activated software. Microsoft is similarly experimenting voice recognition for Bing, its search engine, and has successfully used motion sensors in its Kinect gaming device.

Elsewhere, IBM has utilised contextual computing with "Watson", while Samsung, another electronics manufacturer, already sells refrigerators boasting an LCD screen and internet connection.

Data sourced from the New York Times; additional content by Warc staff