Google search VP: Mobile revamp is to provide 'bite-sized answers'

Key Points
  • Google has tweaked its mobile app to make it look even more like a news feed.
  • The changes are designed to "keep you in the know even when you're not searching," a Google search VP says.
  • Users of Google's Pixel smartphone will be able to access the format by 'swiping' left from their home screen.
Ben Gomes, Google vice president of search engineering, at the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California.

Google is making its mobile app look more like a news feed as it battles Facebook and Amazon for the attention of -- and information about -- online consumers.

This week the technology giant updated its app to add content from more sources. For example, data on local events, eateries and weather will be available alongside regular search results.

Users will also be able "follow" an area of interest with the touch of a button. Having users input this information could help Google further tailor search results and offer better information to advertisers. This could help Google compete in mobile advertising against Facebook, which collects detailed information about users based on their likes and preferences, then uses this information to target ads.

Google, a unit of Alphabet, also tweaked how it presents this information, especially for users of its Pixel smartphone, who can access the feed by "swiping left" from their home screen. It looks more like news feeds from Facebook, Twitter, or Apple News, and features "cards" with specific sets of information like sports scores and news headlines. Some of these cards will contain information from other Google services, like YouTube.

The idea is to make the feed "an extension of Google search," said Shashidhar Thakur, vice president of search, in a presentation to reporters earlier this week. The goal is "to keep you in the know even when you're not searching," Thakur said.

The updates to a format Google first unveiled last December come a day after Amazon unveiled Spark, its own feed of product photos and stories designed to help subscribers to its Prime service find products to buy more easily.

And they come more than a year after Facebook first began experimenting with a new shopping tab in its own news feed.

Mobile requires 'bite-sized answers,' says Google search VP

All three technology giants are looking for new ways to engage with mobile consumers.

While Google now sells everything from videos to smartphones, it still got 87 percent of its first quarter revenue from selling ads.

But with more people searching with mobile phones than PCs, Google is feeling pressure to update its core business.

The shift to mobile means Google has to give users "bite-sized answers to questions," says Ben Gomes, vice president of the company's core search product.

"The vast majority of our queries come from mobile phones," Gomes said during a demonstration of the new features for the media in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The changes will come first to the English version of the Google app for Android and iOS. International versions and one for browsers will be added eventually, the company executives said.

When a reporter asked if the company has plans to place ads -- in the form of sponsored posts -- into the feed, Gomes declined to comment.

Here's a couple examples Google showed us of the new feed:

HANDOUT google search new cards

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Google changed its feed feature, which appears even when users don't actively search for information.