Google’s push to organize the world’s information has recently been focused on figuring out the best way to index mobile apps. Today, the company started indexing Android apps that don’t have matching web content, and started to experiment with letting users stream content from those apps if they don’t have them installed.
Google has been experimenting with various levels of app indexing for years, with features showing up as early as December 2013. The company typically starts with Android, and then considers expanding functionality to iOS. This time is no different: Both these features are only available on Google’s mobile operating system.
Until now, Google has only indexed apps that have matching Web content. Now, the company is going after content that lives primarily in an app. The company is starting with 9 apps: Hotel Tonight, Weather, Chimani, Gormey, My Horoscope, Visual Anatomy Free, Useful Knots, Daily Horoscope, and New York Subway.
Additionally, if you don’t have a given app installed, Google will now let you stream content (as long as you’re on a good Wi-Fi connection). That means you don’t have to install the app to get the information you’re looking for.
In fact, you can even accomplish tasks like booking a room without installing a given app. When these apps show up in search results, they are accompanies with a new Stream button. Tapping it takes you into a streamed version you can interact with as if you had the app on your phone (Android Lollipop is required, and tablets are not yet supported).
Google “wants to make sure users are engaging with this app only content” and that “the streaming experience works well.” “If users enjoy it, and we see they’re using it, we will expand the scope.”
How does this work? “These apps are running on virtual machines on Google Cloud Platform, using the same technology as the Google Cloud Test Lab,” a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat. “It’s similar to a streamed video, but interactive, with swipe, tap, etc. signals being sent to the streamed app in essentially real time. We are experimenting with a few apps initially to get the user experience right, but we are looking to scale to more apps soon.”
This could fundamentally change how searching for content in apps works on mobile devices. Right now, Google serves up the app if you have it installed. If not, it gives you the webpage. Going forward, Google will give you the app whether you have it installed (it just launches) or not (it just streams).
Google also shared it now has over 100 billion deep links into apps in its search index. These include popular apps like Facebook, Instagram, Airbnb, and Pinterest. In fact, over 40 percent of Google searches on Android now surface app content.
Google is well aware that search has evolved from simply entering queries into a desktop browser. “Today, you’re more likely to be searching on your mobile device, and the best answers may be buried in an app … perhaps one that you don’t even have installed yet,” the company acknowledged.
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