In simple but still dramatic fashion, Google has upgraded browser based local search on mobile handsets. It has also tied Maps on the PC to mobile in a very effective way. And recognizing the limitations of keying in queries into a search box on a mobile handset, Google has taken a page from its Places Directory Android app and incorporated search/browse by category (with location awareness). These changes don’t appear to be major at first blush, but they potentially are and make Google’s browser-based local search on mobile devices much more formidable than it was yesterday.
This is also Google acting on its philosophical position that most activity in mobile will ultimately happen through the browser and not via apps. Accordingly these changes enable Google to provide a uniform, cross-platform experience on a wide range of mobile devices.
In terms of PC Maps-mobile linkage, Google enables users to “star” businesses (essentially creating a favorites list). Those starred businesses then appear (if you’re signed in) on a new local page in mobile. For example, I selected several New York delis on the PC. (As an aside, look at the unbelievable number of delis in and around Manhattan.)
I then go to the mobile handset and bring up Google. I click the “Local” link at the top and see this screen:
If I select “starred places,” I’m then taken to my list:
Here are the delis that I starred on the PC. This single change is very powerful and will reinforce Google usage in mobile, tying it to Google’s dominant mapping site on the PC. Now you can create lists online and access them in mobile.
The category lookup functionality illustrated in the screen above (leveraging location in the mobile browser) is another big change that adds vastly to the utility of Google on mobile devices as well. Rather than keying in queries users can simply “search” for a type of business by category and find ones that are nearby. Ads also appear in these category “search results,” creating more inventory and more potential clicks. My belief is that people will use this category lookup functionality fairly heavily because it’s considerably easier than conventional search via the query box.
These upgrades are potentially a big deal that will likely drive more engagement and usage of Google’s browser-based site. However the changes are also available via Google’s iPhone app as well.