Search is moving beyond keywords and desktop interaction into the wider world.
For all the computing power and new algorithms required to deliver relevant real-time search results, a capability announced at a media event on Monday, Google's most significant achievement may be thinking outside the box, specifically the keyword search box.
That's not to diminish the technical accomplishment behind measuring search result freshness in seconds rather than minutes. Speed is good for Google, as the company often acknowledges.
But the strides Google has made in voice recognition and image recognition promise to open new markets for the company and to change the way people search and interact.
"This is certainly a rebuke to anyone who believes that Google is through innovating," said Gartner VP of research Andrew Frank.
Google on Monday announced: 1) the inclusion of real-time information in Google search results; 2) Google Goggles, an experimental image recognition system for Android 1.6+ devices by which users can submit search queries using snapshots of certain objects; 3) a "What's Nearby?" location-based search capability in Google Maps for mobile (version 3.3); 4) Japanese language support for the iPhone and Android voice search apps; and 5) a plan to provide in-conversation voice translation across languages, starting in the first quarter of 2010.
More succinctly, Google is deepening its commitment to new modes of search: search by voice, search by location, and search by sight.
At the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., where the "Searchology" event took place, Google VP of engineering Vic Gundotra said that thanks to the cloud, computing has changed.
For a glimpse of what will be possible in this new cloud-powered era, Gundotra said that location-based search will be able to provide information about whether requested products are in-stock at shops willing to share inventory data with Google.
That's a valuable service for merchants and Google is well on its way to being able to provide it.
With regard to Google's search by sight research, Gundotra mused that Google Goggles could one day allow people to point at an object and have it identified.