Google just got serious about mobile

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It looks like the power balance between desktop computers and mobile devices has finally shifted for good. Google debuted improvements to its web search on Tuesday that show the search giant’s increased prioritization of the mobile experience. Two of the three technology updates Google announced for desktop are of features that were first available on mobile and the other will make the mobile browsing experience better.

Here’s what Google showed off:

  • Voice search. Google has made speech recognition search available on the desktop for Chrome users to allow people to speak, rather than type, their queries. Desktop Chrome users will now see a microphone icon next to every Google search box. Voice search has long been available on Google’s mobile search applications.
  • Search by image. Google debuted the capability to search using an image on the desktop browser. Users can now upload any picture from their hard drives, or plug in an image URL from the web, and ask Google to identify what it is. Google’s “Goggles” mobile application has allowed people to search by taking photos with their mobile phones since its launch in 2009.
  • Instant Pages. Pages is an iteration of the Instant Search feature launched last year. Instant Pages renders a visual of the search page a user is likely to click on while the query is in the process of being typed. According to Google, Instant Pages shaves between two to five seconds off of the typical search time. Instant Pages is only available on the Chrome browser for now, but much like Instant Search, which launched on the browser before coming to mobile search, hopefully Instant pages can make the transition. Like Instant Search, which seemed tailor-made for searching on a mobile device where every click counts, Instant Pages could be a boon for mobile devices as Google pre-renders pages in the cloud while your search is being performed.

For years, Google’s efforts on the mobile web have seemed largely about trying to translate the desktop experience onto a handheld form factor. But recently, it seems even the tech industry’s largest players, companies who got their start by succeeding in the desktop environment, have acknowledged that the power dynamic can and should change. Lion, the new version of Apple’s desktop operating system launched last week, took a number of cues from Apple’s mobile operating system iOS. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the latest updates from Apple and Google indicate that desktop software has finally started to look to mobile for inspiration.

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