Google unveiled Android 4.4 (KitKat) last week, and has since talked about some changes to the Phone app. These are some pretty big changes, and they have a direct impact on how users can and will engage with businesses by the phone.
The app connects directly to Google+, and will provide profile info in caller ID. It also provides a search box, where users can search for nearby businesses when they're looking to make a phone call, effectively bringing the phonebook right to the phone. Well, perhaps effectively is not the right word.
Do like the direction in which Google is taking the Phone app? Let us know in the comments.
Very few people have KitKat so far, but that will change over time. The new Nexus 5 launched with it, and it's coming to Google Play versions of the Galaxy S4 and HTC One. Eventually, it will make its way to more phones. Google indicated that it will run fine on low-end smartphones, so we expect it to have a pretty broad reach when all is said and done.
Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land is one of the few that do have KitKat, and he wrote a post slamming Google's business results in the Phone app.
You would think they would be in line with the results you would get from the Search and/or Maps apps but apparently you'd be wrong.
"There’s so much wrong here. The phone app does manage to locate one restaurant that’s near my location in the city of Newport Beach, California. One," he writes. "After that, it suggests another restaurant in Irvine, about 10 miles away. Then it suggests one in 'nearby' San Francisco, which is about 300 miles away. After that, it suggests some phone number I didn’t recognize — in fact, one that I couldn’t even call, as it was too many digits."
He then talks about trying different examples, like "pizza," "movies," etc., and the results don't get much better.
"It’s not just that the results are so bad," he writes later in the piece. "The experience sucks, too. Assuming you do find a business you want, there’s an excellent chance that if you’ve turned to the Phone app as a search tool, you’ll want to know more about that business before calling. And yet, the Phone app listings pretty much tell you nothing. There’s not even a picture of the business."
It's entirely possible that the experience and results will improve as time goes on. I'd expect them to, but it's pretty odd to see Google launch something like this - something that is actually a search feature - and execute it so poorly. Remember when search was just what Google did?
In fact, in some ways, it seems like results are suffering more and more as Google "improves" its technology and progresses as a search engine. Look at the Knowledge Graph. Google has made tremendous strides in search with that, but it's also caused some significant quality issues, even beyond the errors we point out from time to time.
Earlier this week, Search Engine Roundtable pointed to an interesting finding in a Google Webmaster Help forum thread, where spammers are getting fake Google+ Local listings to appear in Knowledge Graph results.
There have been quite a few complaints with the local results appearing in the carousel since they rolled that out as well.
But back to the Android Phone app.
Even if the results are poor for now, Google deserves some credit for taking search to such an obvious (but so far untapped) place. If the results and experience improve, this puts businesses even closer to prospective customers.
Google said in a recent Google+ post, "The new Phone app helps you find just the right number, even if it’s not in your contact list, by letting you search among nearby places or even Google Apps accounts (including your company’s directory, if employees numbers are shared), directly from within the app--just start typing, and results will show up!"
The Caller ID element of the new Phone app has been getting most of the attention this week (compared to the search function, which is possibly more significant).
With the feature, Google matches numbers against the names of companies and services with Google Places listings. It also looks at your Google Apps domain, and lets you know if someone from work is calling. Starting in 2014, anyone who has verified their number, and has discovery turned will ahve their names and Google Profile photos display when they call.
"It’s great if a new friend who hasn’t been saved in your contacts yet calls you," Google says.
You can opt out of this, but it's also another instance of Google pushing Google+ on users of its other products - in this case Android.
This comes just as the company is facing a backlash from YouTube users unhappy with a new change to the comments system, which also utilizes Google+.
Google's message seems pretty loud and clear: If you're using something we make, you're going to use Google+.
Do you think the changes to Android are going to be good for business? The user experience? Let us know what you think in the comments.