I’ve always been a fan of Google, so when I bought my iPhone, Google Mobile was one of the first apps I downloaded. During this review, we’ll get into the functionality and features of the app including its search capabilities, custom settings and access to all the great Google apps you already know.
I, and I’m sure most of you reading this, use Google on a daily basis. On top of the most popular Google apps such as Gmail and Google Docs, the Google Mobile app gives you access to other useful Google apps while on the go; Calendar, Maps, YouTube… the list goes on.
Google is an extremely powerful search engine. The Google Mobile app brings this functionality to your iPhone or iPod touch, and can do so using your voice with Voice Search.
Non-US Google Mobile users will have voice search turned off by default. To turn on voice search, visit the setting panel.
Tap the voice search button, speak into your device and Google will do what it does best. More often than not though, this feature proves to be impractical in situations other than when typing would create major distraction. I find myself using this feature sometimes while driving or maybe on a ski lift, but rarely so.
Sometimes the app will jumble up what you meant for it to search for and return something completely different – especially when numbers are spoken. After the app returns a search you can tap on the green search item for a list of similar search strings.
While Google Mobile’s voice search isn’t perfect I would still opt to have it included in the app rather than not, and in some situations can be quite useful.
Google Mobile keeps a history of your searches right on the search screen. This is a great feature. Unfortunately, after searching for a term or keyword through the app, Google Mobile takes you onto the web in its own browser, not Safari. This is (in my opinion) the biggest downfall to using Google Mobile as a browser.
While Google Mobile is great for the search, it’s not so great when it comes to bridging the gap between itself and Safari. Since the app has a built-in browser, the search and browsing history will not exist in Safari. It will be in Google Mobile’s history, but this makes the process of bookmarking links in Safari just an extra step away. To do so you must tap the drop down tab in the top right corner of the screen in Google’s browser where the option is given to ‘Open in Safari.’
After going through all these steps just to get to Safari and have your search appear there, the only benefit I see in using Google Mobile would be the voice search capability. My request for Google (which is probably just as much a request for Apple) is to inject Google’s voice search into Safari. Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll see that happen any time soon!
App, Apps and More Apps
Google has included a quick and easy way to access their applications through an “Apps List”. Most of these, such as Gmail and Calendar, are web apps and simply invoke Safari, but a few, including Google Earth will run natively.
If you use Google apps on a daily basis, Google Mobile provides a hearty list of tools that you can add and delete at your discretion. If you’re like me and you have Gmail push emailset up and synchronised iPhone and Google calendars then you shouldn’t need to use Google Mobile for these.
Customizing your Google Mobile Experience
Google Mobile gives the end user a considerable amount of control over the app’s appearance – customized in the settings panel. Here you can change the default screen shown on start-up, search settings and the domain for your apps. The ‘Bells and Whistles’ menu reveals some cool features where you have settings for theme color, sounds, waveform and screen rotation.
iPod touch users: You can use voice search too! If you’ve read up to this point and have been trying to speak into your iPod for the past 10 minutes with unsuccessful results, it is because your iPod lacks a built-in microphone (Doh!). To be able to speak into your iPod, run to the nearest Apple store and grab a pair of iPhone headphones (which have a built-in mic).
After completing a search, tap the search button again for a list of options to search ‘all, images,’ etc. After tapping a search type, Google Mobile will update the search results reflecting your selection. Tapping the search button twice will invoke the on-screen keyboard rather than the default search screen.
There are some major downsides to the Google Mobile app. Number one would be the lack of integration with Safari. As I previously mentioned, having a voice search function in Safari would be great. While Google Mobile does save a history of completed searches, there’s no record in Safari. So what you do in Safari and what you do in Google Mobile remain completely separate. This is a limitation of the iPhone OS, and not something Google could work around.
When a web app is launched, it opens in Safari. This is relatively impractical, as the same thing can be accomplished by simply bookmarking these apps in Safari. With so many iPhone apps creating a seamless experience when transmitting data to and from the web I don’t see why the folks at Google can’t do the same.
One feature I am disappointed with Google Mobile for not including for it’s iPhone and iPod touch users is Google Goggles. Goggles allows you to do some pretty cool things with pictures of landmarks, business cards and more. It is currently being offered to Droid users – hopefully Google will come out with an iPhone version soon.
Lastly, but not a major issue, is the Voice Search jumbling up and misinterpreting commands. I’m sure that over time, as updates for Google Mobile roll out, some of these problems will be resolved.
In conclusion, since the app is free, it’s worth the download – but I would be reluctant to pay for it. It does offer various cool features and makes searches easier while on-the-go with its voice search, but the user who prefers Safari and likes to keep their search and page history all in one place will most likely find themselves using Google Mobile only for the Voice Search.
Although it’s a good start, I feel the app has a long way to go before it’s something iPhone and iPod touch owners use on a more frequent basis.
Google Mobile provides a range of enhanced search features for the iPhone, including Voice Search, a search history, and a way to quickly and easily access Google's web applications. Unfortunately, it has a way to go before it becomes a "must have" for iPhone users.6