You're standing on a street corner and remember that you need to pick up a video game for your sister's birthday. On your smartphone, you search Google and tap on the "in stock nearby" link next to the blue dots that show up for some of the search results. Google then shows you which local retailers have the game in stock.
That buying omniscience, where your mobile device can tell you whether what you want is nearby, was announced Thursday by the search giant.
iPhone, Palm, Android
The blue dots in the search results link to participating retailers, which currently include Best Buy, Sears, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and West Elm. The "in stock nearby" link connects to the seller's page, where the retailer near you notes whether the given item is "in stock" or has "limited availability." The distance from your current location is also indicated if you have enabled My Location or manually specified your location.
Google also has forms online so other retailers can become part of the program.
The U.S.-based functionality is available for an iPhone, a Palm webOS phone, or any device using the Android mobile operating system. After going to Google.com, the user clicks on the "more" link, and then "shopping," or, alternatively, looks for "shopping results" in the search results. Mobile product search with local inventory was first shown in December by Vic Gundotra, Google's vice president of engineering.
Andrew Frank, a research director at Gartner, noted that local-inventory product search is "part of a trend" where new functionality is coming about because the technical feasibility of various pieces have come together.
In this case, GPS, inventory feeds, and powerful mobile devices are combining with cloud-based search services to allow a user to find the nearest product in stock.
'Lot More Pressure' on Retailers
This kind of practical use of location-aware searching, Frank said, could put "a lot more pressure" on retailers to keep their pricing aggressive on sought-after items and make their inventory data accessible.
The new functionality in mobile product search is one more step in Google's effort to keep its search engine ahead of Microsoft's growing Bing search engine. The competition with Microsoft also heated up in other ways this week with new additions to Google Apps.
On Wednesday, Google Apps users got the ability to automate tasks with scripts or macros so repetitive tasks can be automated, and applications can be linked or customized. Users can also share their scripts online.
And on Tuesday, Google launched an online application store, the Google Apps Marketplace, for third-party programs that can be used and integrated with Google Apps. The apps in the marketplace -- from several dozen third-party companies and including tools for asset management, project management, and bookkeeping -- are part of Google's effort to position Google Apps in the business-productivity landscape that has long been dominated by Microsoft.