Google held a press event Tuesday morning at San Francisco's Yerba Buena Center, during which they rolled out several new search products and enhancements and after which they rolled out some seriously awesome cupcakes. Seriously, I don't know what they put in that vanilla icing but it was amazing.
The announcements centered around the company's self-proclaimed quest to turn "data" into "knowledge" by making search more meaningful, more ubiquitous and of course, faster. Four main products were unveiled, with availability to come on a rolling basis depending on how and where you're accessing Google; i.e., American users rocking Chrome browsers and Android tablets will see most of the new goodies sooner than their friends using IE and iPhones in other countries. Google also showed off revamped versions of their mobile search page interfaces, featuring distinct UIs for smartphones and tablets.
All in all the event was impressive, if not immediately game-changing. Brief overviews of the individual products are below, but my overall takeaway was this: Google remains uniquely situated to roll out technologies both accessible to all and positioned to encourage consumer adoption of their own products. Search (and monetizing search with ads) is still their bread and butter, so they need to make sure that we're all Googling and not Yahoo!Binging no matter what computers we use. But they're also throwing in some Android and Chrome-only value-adds meant to sweeten the pot for those fully committed to the Google way of computing.
Instant Pages is the most obviously impressive of the new technologies shown today. Essentially a smart pre-rendering engine, Instant Pages uses Google's prediction algorithms to pre-render the pages you're most likely to click on while you're busy scanning search results. In other words, you do a Google search, and in the time it takes you to look through the results page and make a choice, the system has started pre-rendering pages in the background. So by the time you make your choice, odds are your browser will have that page pre-loaded so it can appear instantly when you click. The demo results were impressive – popular pages like The Washington Post literally loaded instantly using the system, while less popular pages still loaded 3-5 seconds faster on average than without Instant.
Search by Image on desktop
Also pretty impressive – if potentially disastrous at work if SafeSearch is off – is Search by Image. Based on a "scaled up" version of Google Goggles technology, Search by Image does what it says: Drop an image into the Google search bar and get back results both textual and visual that match your query. Google said they won't employ any sort of facial recognition tech in Search by Image, instead relying on less privacy-invasive techniques like pixel, line and texture matching to compare your query image to their massive database of potential matches. Also, highly ranked content – like famous monuments – are far more likely to show up in search results than less popular, and more personal, images – like your daughter's birthday party photos.
According to the Google Inside Search blog, "Search by Image is rolling out and will be available in most countries over the next couple of days. The Chrome and Firefox extensions are available for download now, but until Search by Image is rolled out to you, you won't see the extension active in your browser."
Google Images with Instant
You know how Google Instant refreshes your search results page on the fly as you enter your query? Now Google can do that same trick with image search. This could be potentially hard on the eyes – and could lead to some funny and/or uncomfortable results if you mistype. But it's still neato and shows off the search giant's ongoing commitment to speed, speed and more speed.
Voice Search on desktop
While I might not want to do voice searches via my desktop browser, plenty of folks do – and not only people who have physical difficulty typing. Soon we'll all be able to, provided we're using Google as our search engine of choice. Voice Search, already a staple of Google Mobile, is coming to desktop browsers. And it worked very well, at least in today's demos. Google says they've poured some 230 billion words into the system and spent more than a decade of CPU time teaching it to recognize not only a myriad of words, but also the various pronunciations employed by folks who speak the same languages in different parts of the world. You say tomato, I say to-mah-toe, and apparently Google can recognize them both.
More on Inside Search.