Google Search for iPhone Hits Its Awkward Stage

Google has updated its search app for iPhone with a new interface, as well as the addition of Google Goggles. The slide’n’swipe interface features an interesting way of arranging menu items, yet the slide action feels jerky. Like its original version, the app can take you to a long list of Google Apps, yet it throws the user over to Safari rather than using the app’s built-in browser, which might be smoother.

Originally, Google Search for iPhone was little more than a polished little app-sized link to its Web pages. So much of what people use Google for takes place through a browser that there wasn’t much point in delivering a heavy piece of software; a well-put-together set of roadsigns did the trick.

Now Google’s iPhone app has grown up a bit. It received an update that makes its main interface a little more complex, delivers a few new features, and builds in some slidey-swipey action to lessen the impression that you’re looking at a made-for-mobile website rather than an installed application.

Underneath that, though, you’re still looking at a browser that’s looking at Google — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Its appearance is customized to fit the iPhone screen, and it makes Google’s many smartphone utilities a little easier to find. Some of the changes, however, still feel a little rough.

Open the Google iPhone app for the first time and you’ll get a quick tutorial. The familiar Google homescreen is there in the upper half of the screen, as well as a search bar, a cog icon for settings, a mic icon for voice searches and a camera icon to fire up Google Goggles. At the bottom is a button for Google Apps — Docs, Orkut, Buzz (yep!), Reader and the like.

Type something into the search bar, and it’ll conduct a standard Google search. But you can refine that search by giving it a left-to-right swipe. This reveals a sidebar where you can select which specific part of Google to search in. Default is Everything, but there’s also News, Images, Videos, Blogs, etc.You can also swipe top-to-bottom to bring the main Google search page back into view.

This interface arrangement is a bit unusual — I can’t name another app I’ve ever seen that arranges its menus quite like this. Its concept makes plenty of sense, but using it on an iPhone 4, it feels kind of jerky. Swiping down to get the half-screen Google start page is sometimes interpreted by the app as an attempt to enter text into the top search bar. Side-swipes to get to the various search categories is sometimes ignored if the gesture was just a little on the fast-and-sloppy side. It seemed to require a much more deliberate sweep of the finger than, for instance, the Kindle iPhone app needs to turn a page. This may be due to the fact that this app gets almost all of the data it’s showing you from the Web, rather than the phone’s internal storage, but the effect feels decidedly rough sometimes.

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