Android: Pure Magic

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Clarke's third law says that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is doing its best these days to attain that elusive "magic" status.

There's an app for that -- sort of
Big G just launched two significant applications for the Android mobile platform that nudge your cell phone a little bit closer to pure magic.

The most impressive of these is the Google Goggles app, which lets you do Web searches through the camera in your Android-based phone. Instead of entering words into a search box, or even speaking your query into the phone (another Android feature that got a minor upgrade this week, with Japanese added to the list of supported languages), you simply point the camera at the thing you're curious about.

It could be a book cover, a geographical landmark, a bar code, business cards, or a corporate logo, among other things -- the picture will be sent to a Google server and deconstructed, with an appropriate response sent back to your phone. Problem solved.

It doesn't work great for things like cars, animals, or clothes yet, and for privacy reasons, Google doesn't even try to identify people in your images. So it isn't quite magic -- at least not yet. But it's still a major step forward from the current state of the art, where Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone apps like Red Laser or SnapTell can perform simple visual searches on things like bar codes and book covers. Google claims to have a visual database of "tens of millions" of objects and places that can be identified by a picture alone, and Goggles manager Shailesh Nalawadi envisions "a future where visual searching is as natural as pointing your finger."

Goggles is available for free today, and runs on any Android phone of version 1.6 or later, which includes the Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) Droid. There's work being done to bring Goggles' functionality to other platforms too, though, including a plugin for the Google Chrome browser. Given that Google generally strives to keep Web surfers happy regardless of how they surf, I wouldn't be surprised to see mobile Goggles apps for the iPhone or Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) BlackBerry before too long.

One-touch search
Somewhat less impressive but still significant is the "what's nearby" feature in the updated version of Google Maps for recent Androids. Press and hold your finger anywhere on a Google map and you'll see a list of the 10 closest points of interest, such as restaurants, museums, and retail stores. It's a shortcut that immediately answers the frequent, burning question of "What's around here, anyway?"

Remember that convenience is king, and Google works in a market where every millisecond counts. Sure, you could get the same list of 10 Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) shops around Times Square (two of them in the restrooms of the largest one) in other ways, like running the store locator on Starbucks' own site or doing a text search on Google Maps -- or its equivalents from Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) or Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Bing. But it'll take you longer, you could mistype something and need to start over, and the simple proximity search could show you results you wouldn't have thought to look for in the first place.

So what?
Taken together, which is how Goggles and What's Nearby? were presented by Google, these features demonstrate a fanatical dedication to a simple user experience that is easy to understand and equally simple to use. That future where searching the Web becomes as natural as pointing a finger be a future where Google is swimming in cash generated by the advertising that will inevitably come along for the ride. And that's when today's investments in forward-looking and seemingly ridiculous technologies will pay off in spades.

If you thought Google was big and rich today, you ain't seen nothin' yet. There's money-making magic in the road ahead.

Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple and Starbucks are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. The Fool owns shares of Starbucks. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.

Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (10)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 12:09 PM, gskorich wrote:

    Google is slowly becoming the Walmart of the App World. Apple seems to take a different approach for their OS, let the developer and the user decide what the ywant on their device. i can only assume the developers at Google have iphones and wait for the new cool app to be released so they can steal the idea.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 12:33 PM, MediaMogul007 wrote:

    So what IP and codecs will drive the lower bandwidth, HD imagery that these "magical" Apps work on? And what IP and embedded tech are in the multi-format video chips that drive the mobile devices that allow the "magic" to happen wherever you are? Hmmm....?

    Well it's On2 Technologies / Hantro Oy Patented IP and Tech of course! All of this for only $106M in Google decimal dust. But alas, On2 shareholders fully understand the injustice of it all and are voting NO to the pending merger in overwhelming numbers.

    Mr. Schmidt, Increase the offer NOW to a fair value, or go through the pain and market humiliation that follows.

    This is the hidded Android story that needs to be told - NOW.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 12:44 PM, plange01 wrote:

    android is pure junk.lets not forget its owner google is nothing more than a online phone book!

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 1:35 PM, eltoro2827 wrote:

    Android sucks and Apple will stomp the crap out of it.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 1:52 PM, eltoro2827 wrote:

    Android is pure crap and will get stomped by Apple. I am not a mac guy but the iPhone is the best phone to be found.

    For the record I use Windows 7 have and iPhone and use a Zune.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 2:04 PM, jpanspac wrote:

    I'm trying to think of a plausible scenario where I would need Goggles. I haven't come up with anything yet.

  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 2:15 PM, rofgile wrote:

    Android is going to be on an e-book reader / netbook soon too.

    the entourage eDGe. Check out that sweet peice of hardware! I'd rather have a smart ebook reader/tablet pc than a tiny smart phone.


  • Report this Comment On December 10, 2009, at 10:12 PM, Fool wrote:

    Apple should make an app to teach some manners to the boys and girls who have wasted their allowances on an iphone. This was written using a physical keyboard on an Android phone while running multiple apps. Anyway, iphones are stylish.

  • Report this Comment On December 11, 2009, at 5:25 PM, Fool wrote:

    Android s here. Welcome to the future. Watch and learn kids.

  • Report this Comment On December 12, 2009, at 2:48 PM, PulSamsara wrote:

    Kiddies play in a sandbox.

    Go Android.

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