Google hones search for mobile and speed

Posted at 06/15/11 10:26 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - Google Inc unveiled new features and technology to speed up Web searches and to make it easier for people to use its flagship search engine as they increasingly access the Internet from handheld mobile devices.

At a briefing in San Francisco on Tuesday, Google demonstrated a new feature called Instant Pages which allows certain Web pages to pop-up in a user's Web browser nearly instantaneously, as well as a revamped version of its website for mobile devices.

Google, the world's No.1 Internet search engine, said that traffic coming from mobile devices such as smartphones has increased by a factor of five during the past two years.

"We see all this mobile traffic growing on top of our desktop (PC) traffic," Google Fellow Amit Singhal said.

Singhal said that consumers' increased use of mobile devices benefits Google by allowing people to continue searching the Internet during times when searches on desktop PCs typically wane, such as after 9 p.m., during the weekends and during the summer months.

"There is no summer slump" with Internet searches on mobile devices, he said.

But Google's search event - which the company billed as a chance to see new technology and learn about Google's "vision" for search - was light on new features that weave social networking elements into its search results.

"It's their huge, gaping Achilles heel," BGC Partner Colin Gillis said of Google's social networking capabilities.

Maintaining its role as the main gateway to information on the Internet is key for Google, which generated roughly $29 billion in revenue last year -- primarily from search ads.

Some believe Google's position at the center of the Internet universe is not as secure as it once was, as a new generation of mobile computing gadgets changes consumers' Web-browsing habits and as fast-growing Internet social networks like Facebook and Twitter emerge as popular online hangouts.

Shares of Google, which closed Tuesday's regular session at $508.37, are down roughly 15% since the start of the year.

Microsoft Corp has sought to distinguish its Bing search engine by incorporating data from Facebook's more than 500 million users, promoting its so-called social search capabilities in television commercials.

Asked about the lack of new social search features at the event, Google executives cited announcements earlier this year such as the special "+1" buttons which allow users to endorse Web pages and to view recommendations from friends within their search results.

So far Google's market share has not shown any decline with 65.5% of the US search market in May, up slightly from 65.4% in April, according to Web analytics firm comScore. Yahoo Inc had 15.9% of the market in May and Microsoft had 14.1%.

With traffic to its site increasingly coming from people on the go, Google introduced a new version of its mobile website that features large buttons that deliver information about nearby restaurants, gas stations and bank machines, among other things.

Google also showcased a new search feature for desktop PCs that analyzes an image and retrieves relevant information about it, such as which country appears to be depicted in the background of a family snapshot.

The company said its new Instant Pages feature could eliminate 2 seconds to 5 seconds from the time it takes for a user to conduct a Web search and arrive at the desired page. The technology works by predicting the search result a user is most likely to click and automatically downloading that page in the background.

"Every time we shave even 50 milliseconds from the search process, users search more and more," said Google's Singhal.

Google said the Instant Pages feature will initially be available as an add-on to Google's Chrome Web browser and that it planned to make it available for mobile devices in the coming weeks.