Архив метки: Spotlight Search

iCloud’s App Search Engine: A First Step To A Cloud-Enabled Phone

icloud-app-search

Apple has built a search engine for apps. It’s called iCloud – or more technically, it’s one aspect of the overall iCloud service. Using it, you can search through every app you have installed on your iOS device or have ever purchased in the past. And it’s available on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch right now.

The average smartphone user has 64 mobile apps installed on their mobile device. I’m ahead of the curve. I have around 400. It’s pushing nearly 7 GB of storage. Granted, many of these apps were installed for testing purposes only – they aren’t used daily by any means. But my real problem is that I’m not inclined to remove apps I don’t use. They just sit there on the phone, abandoned, languishing on the back screens. I could delete them, but I don’t. You know…just in case.

But the promise of iCloud, as I see it, is that these apps can disappear from the iPhone’s homescreen, but never have to fully disappear from reach. They can be recalled through a simple search.

Note to Android users: This whole post is about Apple’s iCloud. Android has cool ideas, too. I love my Nexus S. But Android is not being addressed in today’s article. 

That search mechanism already exists. For now, it’s tucked away under a couple of screens within the iPhone’s App Store app. It’s neither an everyday necessity for the average user or functional enough for a power user’s needs. But it’s there, and somewhere at Apple HQ, it’s being improved.

Today, it’s easier to flip through your screens to find your apps, especially if you only have 64 of them (or less). Worst case scenario: you can’t remember which folder you tucked the app in, so you flip to the left side of the homescreen and use Spotlight Search to find the app in question instead.

But let’s extrapolate out to a few years into the future. A few years of downloading and abandoning apps on our backscreens. A few years of iPhone upgrades, with hundreds of leftover apps syncing to new devices. Why not delete the unused apps? Why not perform regular app cleanups? Because users are lazy. I’m lazy. I don’t want to. I have better things to do. So does everyone. And so the apps continue to sync from one device to the next, forgotten.

We need a new metaphor for search. Homescreens, app folders and Spotlight Search will not be enough. We need a cloud-hosted index of searchable apps.

A number of companies are working towards this end. (See: ChompQuixey, Do@tXyologicAppolociousAppsFireKinetik, and Crosswa.lk, for example). There are a lot baby steps being taken here, and the occasional leap. Build a search engine like Google, but for apps! Include rankings and user reviews! Use keywords from app descriptions! Make it social! All good ideas. But not enough.

And anyone who’s just building an app search engine app without some other larger business behind it, could easily get trounced on by Apple in the coming months.

To see what I mean, check out the bare-bones iCloud app search engine that’s on your iOS device right now (assuming you’re on the latest version of iOS):

  1. Launch the App Store app.
  2. Tap “Updates.”
  3. Tap “Purchased” (at the top).
  4. Drag the screen down so you can see the search box.
  5. Enter in a keyword (try something common, e.g. “photo.”).
  6. Tap “Search.”

Look at your results. There, all your apps matching your keywords. Ranked by – how? – I’m not 100% sure, but it looks like time of installation. It’s certainly not update date or alphabetically.

This iCloud app search engine is only partial functional, though. Like Spotlight, it only looks at the app’s titles, not descriptions, for keywords. It doesn’t know how much you’ve used an app or how you’ve rated it. Sometimes, it would show me which apps were installed versus which are available on the cloud. Sometimes it got buggy and showed all apps as having the iCloud download button, even if they were installed on the device.

But it’s there. And it’s only a matter of time before iCloud search is integrated with Spotlight Search and Siri, via APIs. We’ll soon be calling up our preferred apps using natural language, both in typed-in queries and in spoken ones. We won’t need to know whether the app is currently on our phone. iCloud will know. Siri will know. We may not even need to initiate the download ourselves. Our phone will do that for us.

In addition, our homescreen clutter will be gone. Apps will delete themselves after periods of non-use unless you configure them as “locked.” Maybe there will be an “auto organize” option for our homescreens, which arranges apps based on usage.

With the exponential growth of the mobile application ecosystem, this is one of the only possible ways to manage the entirety of a user’s app archive in the months ahead. Many of today’s apps are cloud-enabled, but this will be a cloud-enabled phone.

Maybe I’m dreaming? But if Apple can’t get it done, someone should. (Android? Windows Phone? An app developer? A startup?) The mobile ecosystem is still young enough to be entirely disrupted by someone with a new idea for parsing the new web of apps. Today, I believe it’s Apple that’s the closest to implementation, given the glimpse it’s given us with iCloud. But who knows? We could still be surprised.


iCloud’s App Search Engine: A First Step To A Cloud-Enabled Phone

Personal Search Service CloudMagic Arrives On Mobile For Fast Gmail, Docs & Twitter Search

CloudMagic_iphone

CloudMagic, the personal search service that indexes your Gmail, documents, contacts, calendar and Twitter updates, is now available as a mobile app. The release follows a major update for the service this past fall, which added the ability to search Twitter and a move to host your personal index in the cloud.

This switch is what enables CloudMagic to work across multiple devices, including now, iPhone and Android smartphones. Using the new mobile app, CloudMagic is surprisingly fast – and far more useful than the phones’ built-in search functions alone.

We first looked at CloudMagic back in summer 2010 when the startup made its debut as a browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that indexed your Gmail and Google Apps. The extension is still around, if you want it, but is not required for the service to work. Instead, you can simply connect your accounts (Gmail, Google Docs, Google’s Contacts and Calendar, and Twitter) using OAuth. If you choose to use the extension, however, you’ll also have access to a CloudMagic search box you can access within Gmail or Twitter.

Using the search box is fast, and helpful in the way it aggregates and organizes the data. I like using the extension in Gmail better – in Twitter, it feels a little more in the way due to its placement. And while Gmail’s search is already very good, CloudMagic is helpful in that you can remain in your inbox, or even with an email open, in order to search. (Gmail’s search makes you navigate away from what you’re doing to a standalone search page to see your results.)

But even though Gmail’s native search is OK on the desktop, on phones, that’s another matter. Email search there is far more broken.

Email search on the iPhone, for example, only lets you search by “From,” “To,” “Subject” and “All.” CloudMagic, on the other hand, allows you to search for names, a company name, a phrase you remember from a tweet or anything else. It also supports the use of the advanced search operators listed here.

So now, for example, you can search for “filename:pdf” on your mobile to find all emails that have a PDF attached. Handy.

The app is also really, really, really, fast. It felt more like using the iPhone’s Spotlight Search feature than some cloud-hosted thing. (Hopefully that will remain the case after everyone signs up all at once!)

CloudMagic, which competes with Greplin, still needs to integrate more services to be competitive. Greplin already includes Twitter, and it offers Facebook, Tumblr, Dropbox, LinkedIn, and Google Reader, too. But it’s still good to see some competition in the desperately under-served, on-device mobile search market. Yes, that’s a thing. A thing we need!

You can grab the updated CloudMagic iPhone and Android apps from their respective app stores if you want to give it a go.

The service comes from the same folks who brought you IssueBurner, the combo task management/helpdesk solution for small teams.


Personal Search Service CloudMagic Arrives On Mobile For Fast Gmail, Docs & Twitter Search

App-ocalypse

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There are over 500,000 applications for the iPhone and iPad, 300,000+ on Android and thousands more on other platforms. The average user has 65 apps installed on their phone (source: Flurry). Many of us have more.

Entire businesses have been built to solve the problem of “app discovery” – that is, a way to supplement the limited app search mechanisms built into the vendors’ own application stores. This is primarily to benefit mobile app developers, who can’t get their apps found. The end results of these products are pitched to consumers as tools to “find new, cool apps,” “find apps your friends like,” or “find the best apps that do X.”

While these efforts are appreciated by app developers and end users alike, they don’t solve what is increasingly becoming a real problem: finding the apps you already have installed on your phone.

Before sourcing factual data from mobile analytics firm Flurry as to the average number of apps users have installed on their devices, I did some informal polling on Facebook and Twitter. I asked my friends and followers how many apps they currently have on their phones. The answers were surprising. Although there were a few outliers – the person who only had 10, for example, and a couple of others who have upwards of 300, most people fell within the 40-100 app range. More often than not, they had closer to 50 or 60. Again, this is anecdotal data, but speaks to trends within the tech community. It’s interesting that this non-scientific polling shows that early adopters have roughly the same number of apps, on average, as all smartphone users worldwide – around 65.

But how many apps do people actually use? According to Flurry, the average consumer uses only 15 apps per week. That means that the majority of the apps installed on the phone are for occasional use. The games you play while killing time, the tip calculator or bill splitter you only pull out when dining with friends, the calorie counter for that diet you began in January (and again June), the garage sale finder, the photo-uploader, and that game that you kid totally loves…you know, the one with the bunnies? What was that called again?

And herein lies the problem.

Unless your app is appropriately titled and optimized for search, on-device app search is severely lacking, at least on the two major platforms, iPhone and Android, which I’ll address in this post.

For example, in tests on my iPhone, you can’t pull up Groupon or LivingSocial by typing in “deals” into the iPhone’s Spotlight Search box. It doesn’t work on Android, either – you have to type the app’s name.

But, oddly, this isn’t always the case. Type in “recipes” on iPhone and Epicurious appears. But not on Android. Type in “deals” on iPhone, and there comes BiteHunter. Type “Shopping” on iPhone, and there’s FastMall and Zoomingo, but not Target or Best Buy. And, in similar tests on Android, apps have to be searched for by name, not function.

Why is this happening?

It appears that some app makers are better than others at maximizing the on-device search capabilities provided by iOS. That is, they’re stuffing their app’s name with keywords. (Epicurious is actually called “Epicurious Recipes & Shopping List,” for example).

This is a problem because search is the quickest way to find apps on your phone. After all, (stock) Android is designed so that you’ll hide most of your apps, only pinning favorites to your homescreen. Meanwhile, iOS addresses the app overload situation with folders…ugly and inelegant folders.

These solutions, built out of necessity, pale in comparison with an efficient search mechanism. But even as useful as keyword-based searching is today, given that it ranks results alphabetically, it won’t continue to be as useful in the future.

I mean, really — results ranked alphabetically! — imagine if that’s how Google ranked the web! Of course, the app store ecosystem is hardly as large as the web.  Due to the barrier of entry – the technical requirements, the vendors’ curation process, etc. – app stores won’t grow to the web’s size. In time, our app addiction will likely also give way to “app-ified” mobile experiences designed for the small screen, and built with HTML5. (Or so I hope). But the app ecosystem is insanely huge and still growing.

In the meantime, users will begin to hit a stopping point with apps – a psychological barrier – not only due to the limited storage space on their phones, but also because they simply don’t have the mental capacity to deal with a phone that has some 500 or 1,000 apps installed. That’s actually kind of a shame. Although it’s a rare day that I feel compelled to check on the sustainability information regarding the fish I’m about order, it’s nice to know that FishPhone is there. And the next time I get into a debate about global warming, I want to quickly launch SkepticalScience. If only I could remember their names!

So here’s a crazy idea: give our devices a real search engine – one that’s as powerful as the app store’s engine, if not better. Apps should be keyword-optimized, ranked and rated by dozens of signals. The on-device app search engine should know what apps you have installed, how often you use them, how long you’ve had them, when you bought them, their ratings, your ratings, which of your friends use them, and everything the apps can and can’t do. For starters.

On iPhone, Siri could one day be that engine – the way that we “re-discover” the apps we have installed will be through developer integrations with Siri’s engine. You’ll ask a question and Siri will launch the appropriate app. But Siri utopia is a long way out – it is very much an alpha product.

In the meantime, instead of downloading every app we like, we should be able to quickly access those apps we’ve deemed our favorites, whether or not they’re on the device we have now. iCloud is a good first step to this – your favorite apps could be stored in the cloud and surfaced through Spotlight Search. And Google, a company that built the world’s best web search engine, could surely do a better job of building an engine for searching the apps on our phones.

Unfortunately, we’re getting to a point where, if this situation doesn’t change, then it’s only a matter of time before all of us start to feel the side effects. Some are already there. Without on-device app search improvements, no one will try your new app because they have enough apps already, thank you very much.

How sad.

Image credits: top – Appstream via Appsfire; iPhone apps – Flickr user Karin Beil


App-ocalypse