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“Location-Aware” Search Is the Next Generation of Smart

Imagine you’re walking in the city and a window display catches your eye. For weeks you’ve been looking for the perfect pair of new shoes, and there they are, just waiting for you. There’s only one problem: the shop is closed.

But that’s no problem for you. Glancing at your phone, you say to no one in particular, “What time does this place open?” And within seconds, a voice answers you, giving you the full store hours.

That’s the functionality behind the new “location aware” search feature, which is now live on Android devices and the Google Search App for iOS. The new feature uses your current location to make contextual guesses about what kind of information you need.

The Location Aware Advantage

The new feature was officially demonstrated in Paris last week, making its debut as part of a talk on the future of search at the SMX conference. It’s actually been live for several weeks now, and includes a powerful array of capabilities.

For example, when you’re near a monument or landmark, you can ask Google questions about it, without even knowing what it’s called. One demo video showed a man in front of Coit Tower in San Francisco, asking simply, “How tall is this?” Google inferred which “this” he meant and gave a correct answer. The same can go for asking the name of a nearby river or lake, or even asking how long the river is and other geographical questions.

The real functionality is more about local businesses, though—and the simple questions we all run into during daily errands. Other demo videos showed that you can simply stand in front of a church and ask what the name of it is, and get a correct answer; or, as mentioned above, get their hours.

Perhaps even more useful, you can simply ask Google to call the place in front of you, again without knowing the name. In the demo, the app was asked to “call this conference center” and, a moment later, the on-stage phone rang.

Obviously, none of these capabilities do anything we couldn’t already do manually. If you wonder when a store opens you can google the store name and find out; if you want to know the name of a river or landmark, chances are good that a glance at a map app will tell you. But the new capabilities take out that legwork, allowing you to simply ask what you want to know and get an instant answer. Google looks it up online so you don’t have to, and as you can imagine Google is quite a bit faster.

In many ways this represents the next, ongoing step forward in “smart” technology. It’s not enough that we have the world’s information at our fingertips; now it’s time to take fingertips out of the equation. That is neither a simple task nor an insignificant one. A world where you can simply muse out loud and get solid answers will look very different than a world of search engines.