Bang On: DuckDuckGo with Style

Google Search is one of the entries on the growing list of Google services that I no longer use. Search results are muddled with advertisements, and it’s clear that producing accurate outcomes is no longer a core goal of the company. I switched to DuckDuckGo for these reasons, and so far I’ve never looked back. For the most part, DuckDuckGo’s search results are comparable to Google’s, and it even offers encrypted Google searches for things such as images.

Even though it delivers excellent results, it’s certainly not going to win any beauty contests, and the iOS application is prohibitively homely. Bang On is a dedicated DuckDuckGo search app that takes all of the great things about the service and wraps them in a beautiful package.

Is this facelift enough for Bang On to earn a coveted place on the iOS dock? Read on to find out.

Search with a !bang

DuckDuckGo is an excellent search engine that prides itself on protecting user privacy. It doesn’t track users or create user profiles, and results aren’t cluttered with social network fluff and advertisements. DuckDuckGo uses a powerful !bang syntax that makes searching specific sites a breeze. A Wikipedia search begins with !wikipedia followed by the search terms, but Wikipedia is only one of hundreds of sites that can be searched with a !bang. For more info about DuckDuckGo !bangs, visit its !bang page.

Design

Now that we’ve covered the basics of DuckDuckGo, it’s time to dig into Bang On. The app makes a strong first impression with a well designed icon. Bang On’s interface is reminiscent of Google’s web interface, with simple icons and well spaced buttons. The app sticks with purple accents for its icon and search bar, but it’s otherwise greyscale. The search and tool bars are always present, and the clean interface puts the spotlight on searching and search results. The app is very well designed, and search is always front and center.

Bang On's interface is simple and easy to use.

Bang On's interface is simple and easy to use.

Search

Bang On takes full advantage of DuckDuckGo’s powerful !bang syntax and adds a toolbar that includes all of the user’s favorite searches. Users can enter the !bang syntax into the search bar manually or tap one of their favorite searches in the search toolbar. It’s possible to select the search syntax before entering a term, but entering the search term and then selecting the syntax automatically takes the user to the search results. This is an intelligent touch that makes searches slightly faster.

Once the search results are delivered, users can easily switch between search sources by tapping a !bang on the toolbar. If Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t provide the information that you’re looking for, just tap the IMDB option to switch between sites.

Long press a toolbar entry to insert the search syntax into the search field without auto submitting the search.

Bang On also includes an excellent voice search feature that’s available for users sporting the new iPad or an iPhone 4S. Tap the microphone on the iOS keyboard and say “search for The Sandlot on Rotten Tomatoes” to be taken directly to search results for the film on Rotten Tomatoes. Voice search works very well and Bang On can handles several variations of request structure.

Bang On gives search suggestions for search terms as well as syntax suggestions when entering a !bang.

Bang On gives search suggestions for search terms as well as syntax suggestions when entering a !bang.

The app makes it incredibly easy to search, but it truly stands out with its ability to send searches to other applications. Instead of searching the mobile Twitter interface, Bang On provides a !tweetbot term that sends searches to Tweetbot, for example. The best part is that these searches depend on app url schemes, which can be edited in the settings menu. This unlocks countless possibilities and turns Bang On into a Launch Center for searches. Users can create a custom !bang using an app url or a website search link. Simply type the link and add “%@” where Bang On should insert the search terms.

Bang On provides a custom bookmark for Mobile Safari that reroutes Google, Bing, or Yahoo searches to the Bang On app.

Bang On stays out of the way so you can maximize your puppies-per-inch (PPI).

Bang On stays out of the way so you can maximize your puppies-per-inch (PPI).

Instead of adding a permanent toolbar at the bottom of the screen, Bang On uses a sleek navigation pad that vanishes when the user scrolls. It can be called back with a simple swipe up from the bottom of the screen. It’s clear that the developer wants to devote as much screen real estate to search results as possible, without compromising search speed.

Sharing is limited, but it's simple enough to copy a link and paste it into another app.

Sharing is limited, but it's simple enough to copy a link and paste it into another app.

The navigation pad offers forward and backward navigation as well as a share button. Unfortunately, sharing is limited to tweet, Safari, link copy and email, but simple searches don’t normally require saving to Instapaper or Facebook sharing. I would love to see additional sharing options in the future, or at least support for Drafts. For now, it’s possible to create a custom !bang that opens another application, and the user can use the “copy link” option to copy and paste the link into another app.

Customization

Searching is all about speed, and Bang On doesn’t weigh users down with unnecessary theme choices or complicated settings. Users can customize their favorite !bangs by searching from a preexisting list or their custom !bangs list. Favorite !bangs appear in the search toolbar. This toolbar is omnipresent, which allows for fast access to bookmarks and speedy searching.

There are predefined !bangs for all of the most popular sites and apps, but savvy users can create their own.

There are predefined !bangs for all of the most popular sites and apps, but savvy users can create their own.

Bang On syncs settings across all devices with iCloud, a handy feature for sure.

Conclusion

Bang On provides a polished experience in every aspect, from its excellent icon to the quality of its searches. It takes all of the best components of DuckDuckGo and supercharges them with powerful custom !bangs that make searching almost any site or within any app a breeze. It rarely crashes, and its iCloud sync makes switching between devices painless. If you’re a DuckDuckGo user or just looking for an excellent search Swiss Army Knife, Bang On is a wise purchase.


Summary

A powerful search app fueled by DuckDuckGo. It features voice search, a customizable favorites bar and the ability to search via website or through other iOS applications.

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  • Don Wilson

    “Search results are muddled with advertisements, and it’s clear that producing accurate outcomes is no longer a core goal of the company.”

    I strongly disagree with this statement and I found it hard to care about the rest of the post because of this. I don’t want to argue the point made and I think that DuckDuckGo and Bang On may be great for many people. I do, however, want to suggest that you try not to include such strong, negative and unnecessary opinions when introducing your post (unless you’re sure that your negative opinion is shared by all your readers). It made it much harder for me to give the rest of the post a fair read.

    • Tim

      Don, that statement is pretty fair. Google used to be about search. Now it is about gathering as much data as possible from users and delivering appropriate ads based on that data.
      Their search results are swayed by things as minuscule as how many other people link to your site, rather than the content on that site. Also, whether or not the site uses Google services. Sites with Google Analytics will rank higher than those that use other tracking services. There are many other reasons as well.
      Google’s goal is to make money on advertising by tricking people into thinking that all their services are free. Just like Facebook.

    • http://twitter.com/#!/techandramen Chris Cooper

      I’m not saying that Google search is terrible, just that advertisements and social network plugs are getting in the way of results. Type almost anything into Google, and you’ll be provided with 3/4 of a page of ads. A growing percentage of DuckDuckGo users are converts from Google, and many are switching for the very reasons quoted in your comment. There are still many instances where Google provides better results, but advertisements are a fundamental difference between the two services, and it’s important to mention this difference when comparing them. I think that these ads degrade the user experience and results, but I definitely understand the difference in opinion.

  • Don Wilson

    I tried to make it clear that I didn’t want to argue the point. I am clearly having a very different experience with Google that either of you are. I just looked through my history at my last 10 searches and I actually didn’t get any ads or social network results on any of them. However, again, my point is not to argue with the statement.

    I’m just trying to suggest that it is a strong negative sentence that made it harder for me to agree or feel open-minded about the post. I think that it could be reworded and still provide an explanation of how DuckDuckGo provides value. I guess what I’m saying is that, in my case, if the only reason for choosing DuckDuckGo is because Google is a pain, then DuckDuckGo provides no value for me.

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