NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2010
Google for Smart Phones -
More Than A Search Engine

By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host
(click to email author)

m.google.com (mobile phone search)
www.igoogle.com (mobile phone iGoogle)
m.google.com/voice (mobile Google Voice)

I finally joined the 21st century when I recently upgraded my cell phone to a smart phone. My old cell phone worked (and still works) very well at sending and receiving calls, basic text messaging, and even had a decent camera; a few years ago, it was almost "state of the art", and now it is approaching functional obsolescence. My new smart phone, only a few weeks old, has broadband internet access, a larger screen, a better camera, GPS, and a host of other features that I have been experimenting with. While it came with several "apps" or applications from the factory, I have spent hours browsing the thousands of additional apps for it, many of which are free. So far, I have downloaded and installed a few dozen apps, most of which I may never really use.

Some time ago, I wrote about how Google, the ubiquitous search engine, was offering cell phone users a free (no charge from Google, but your cell phone provider may charge for text messages) service where the user could send a brief text message to Google at 466453 (GOOGLE on the dialing pad) and get an immediate response to a wide variety of inquiries. By simply sending a short text message to 466453, the user can get driving directions, flight information, weather, stock quotes, retail price comparisons, movie schedules, and many other types of current information. Full details are online at sms.google.com. I must admit that over the past few years, I have used this Google SMS service literally hundreds of times, often several times a day. When it first started, this Google SMS service had a "wow!" factor for me and many others, a response that many new users still experience. Google has not let newer technologies get away from it without capitalizing on them, and Google is now offering a plethora of new services for mobile phones.

Many services are now offering web pages optimized for cell phone users, typically beginning with an "m." at the beginning of the web address; Google is offering its full search capabilities to mobile phone users with web access at m.google.com. in addition to its classical web search function, Google offers mobile phone users almost all of the functionality of its other search services, including an image search, product search (including price comparisons), and current news. Google offers users a free registration which enable the user to access additional functions customized to the user and his location, including a "My Location" service where the user can search for nearby places without typing the user's location. I tried this service using my home zip code, which is registered with Google, and entered "restaurants" in the search box, without any other input; Google responded on my smart phone with an interactive menu of food types. Clicking on "Chinese" presented a listing of Chinese restaurants near my house. Google calls this its "Local Search and Directory", where any listing can be clicked, which opens a new window with details about the business including the address, phone number, website, and reviews. Similar to the SMS service which returned movie times, the mobile web based "Movie Times" service provides information on what is playing at local theaters, as well as reviews posted by other Google users. Sports fans will like the "Latest Results" where by simply entering the name of a sports team, current scores, news, and other information will be displayed about the selected team.

Google also offers a free app for compatible phones, including phones with the following operating systems: Android, BlackBerry, iPhone, Nokia S60, and Windows. The Google app will instantly add substantial functionality to the phone by providing the user with several additional services. There are some differences in the features offered based on the phone's operating system. One very interesting feature of the Google app is that the user can perform searches without typing anything once the app is opened, because it is fully voice operated; by simply saying the search topic, Google will display the results. The Google app can make suggestions about local businesses as queries are being typed, search the email and contacts on the phone, and search Google maps, images, news, and shopping. Like the web based version, the app remembers the user's location, and automates the search for local information including businesses and restaurants. The Google app also links directly to Gmail, Calendar, Maps, and "Latitude" which is a location aware app that allows the user to track his location. The user can decide who to share this location information with, and how much detail can be shared. This service can determine the user's location by GPS (if the phone has GPS), or by plotting the location based on the phone signal.

Google also offers a service it calls iGoogle, which enables the smart phone user to access highly personalized content at any time. From the cell phone's internet browser, connecting to www.igoogle.com offers the user highly customized and personalized content including news from user selected sources, weather, movies, stock quote lists, Gmail, YouTube, a selection of games, and instant messaging.

What I personally found most intriguing is a relatively new service from Google with the moniker Google Voice. Currently available free for students with an .edu email address, and by invitation (online application) free to anyone in the U.S., Google Voice adds increased functionality to the cell phone itself, regardless of the operating system or brand. It offers an integrated system including voicemail hosted by Google with customized greetings (this replaces the cell phone carriers' voicemail), voicemail transcription (voicemail is converted into text and sent by email and text message to the users' designated email and SMS message service), very low cost international long distance calling, the users' own Google provided local phone number (accessible from cell phone or landline), conference calling, call blocking and screening, and other useful functions. Almost all smart phones can utilize Google Voice either by free app, or via the web at m.google.com/voice. It took me less than five minutes to set up Google Voice, and I was very impressed with it. I experimented with it first by calling my cell phone from my home phone, and leaving myself a voicemail, which was promptly transcribed, and sent to both my email address and as a text message. It took Google less than a minute to transcribe the voice mail message and send it to both my email address and to my cell phone as a text message, including caller ID information. The original message is still also available as a true voice mail. One of my daughters is currently out of the country, and I will be able to phone her from my cell phone or landline very inexpensively, utilizing the Google Voice prepaid international long distance service. The local personal number provided by Google Voice also serves a call forwarding functioning; by calling it, the caller can be connected to the user's cell phone or other designated phone, giving the Google Voice user a single phone number for all incoming services, including voicemail, international long distance, and transcription services.

Now that smart phones and mobile web access are very common, the user should strongly consider these services from Google. I am using them right now, and find them very useful; you will too.

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