Friday, 24 March 2017 04:54

Google is Getting Very Good At Understanding What Mobile Users Do and Don't Want


Aside from this, many smartphone users aren't keen on constantly jumping from one site to another, especially when many sites still haven't been optimized for mobile devices. And even jumping from app to app can feel inconvenient. All of this gives apps like Google Search and Facebook's (FB)  core app, which act as core utilities for hundreds of millions of smartphone users, an incentive to integrate basic content that users typically rely on other apps and sites to get.

Facebook's attempts to go in this direction have included launching its Sports Stadium, trending topics features and weather report features, as well as a service (Instant Articles) that lets users view full articles from select publishers within Facebook's app. Google's efforts, in addition to the company's aforementioned moves, include its support for "Instant Apps" that at least partly load from search result pages without any need for installation. There's also its AMP initiative to enable mobile web pages that load almost instantly when accessed via Google Search and News.

The top-line incentives for Google/Facebook to further hook smartphone users on the well-monetized Google Search and Facebook apps are of course pretty big. But there's also another incentive for Google: The company has to give Apple  (AAPL) a large revenue cut when iOS users click on search ads seen on Apple's Mobile Safari browser. It doesn't have to do this if they click on such ads via the Google Search app, or through the iOS Chrome browser. Google said last August it's getting about 60% of its searches via mobile devices.

In tandem with its mobile search page changes, Google unveiled a developer preview for the next version of Android, which is codenamed O. Though not containing any earth-shaking new features (at least for now), the OS delivers several useful nuts-and-bolts improvements.

Battery life, that universal headache, is improved by placing restrictions on what apps can do while running in the background. And those Android users who feel swamped by mobile notifications (that's a lot of them) will be pleased to know an app's notifications can be grouped and collapsed into "channels," with users able to control how the content from individual channels is shown. In addition, users can snooze notifications for 15, 30 or 60 minutes (they could already silence them indefinitely), and are promised "new visuals and grouping to notifications that make it easier for users to see what's going on when they have an incoming message or are glancing at the notification shade."

Google is also creating an autofill programming interface (API) meant to spare users the trouble of repeatedly entering the same personal info by letting them select an autofill app that can do it for them. Other Android O features include support for picture-in-picture video viewing and notification "badges" that can be attached to home screen icons (iOS says hello), and a streamlined Settings interface with a much shorter home page.

None of these features are going to make the average Android user leap for joy. But collectively, they show Google has been paying close attention to what frustrates many consumers about their current smartphone experiences, and what kind of improvements would lower that frustration. Just as its mobile search app/site enhancements show that it grasps how differently many consumers prefer to access information content on smartphones, and as some of the changes recently made to YouTube's features and ad formats point to an understanding of how different mobile viewing habits are.

The impact of some of these moves on Google's bottom line is much more indirect than it is for others. Regardless, with Google either on its way to getting over half its revenue via mobile devices or already there, investors certainly can't complain.

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