Yesterday Google held its Nexus and Android hardware release party. Most of the attention and coverage was focused on the devices introduced: the Nexus 5X and 6P phones, the Pixel C Android tablet and various Chromecast devices.
However there was also a discussion or reintroduction of features associated with the “Marshmallow” update to Android OS. (Android now has 1.4 billion users globally according to yesterday’s news.).
Google originally introduced “Now on Tap” at its I/O developer conference earlier this year. It has subsequently discussed or demonstrated it several times, including at SMX Advanced in Seattle and SMX Paris. Now the feature is rolling out in earnest with Android Marshmallow.
Google Now on Tap allows users to get additional information, take actions or navigate between apps without conducting a formal search. It makes “search” the connective tissue between app experiences on Android. (Bing has also introduced a Now on Tap-like capability called Bing Snapshots for Android.)
Now on Tap is invoked by holding the home button. It will scan the app or webpage and bring up contextually relevant information. For example, in a social media discussion about a specific restaurant, holding the home button will bring up a lower-third pop up with the restaurant name and relevant other apps (e.g., Yelp, OpenTable). The user can then go directly into these and find more information or make an OpenTable reservation.
This illustrates how search is being used in the background across Android and becoming more “contextual” and “transactional.” It also parallels moves Google has made on the desktop to integrate more transactional capabilities (e.g., make an appointment) into the Knowledge Panel of the SERP.
Yesterday Google also demo’d an expanded version of Voice Actions that integrates within apps. Previously Voice Actions stopped at the front door to an app. However during the keynote at the Nexus event Google showed how developers can bring Voice Actions into apps to enable conversational navigation, search or commands within an app.
These are impressive and valuable new capabilities that will enhance the user experience for Android owners. They also make Google search (broadly defined) and Google Now vital “horizontal” features of the whole Android experience.
Google Now (including third party app-card integration), Now on Tap and expanded Voice Actions, among other moves, are Google’s way of adapting and more deeply integrating search and related technologies into a mobile user experience that is now fundamentally different than search on the desktop.