Home OK, Google: Search Inside My Apps!

OK, Google: Search Inside My Apps!

Soon Android users won’t have to trifle with actually opening apps to dig up social photos, find restaurants or conduct other in-app searches. Google’s mobile operating system wants to make easier work of that—by letting its built-in voice tool search inside third-party apps.

See also: Why Google’s App Indexing In Android KitKat Is A Game Changer

Currently “OK Google” searches only reveal some types of information, such as photos or data inside the phone’s stock applications, Google Web searches and Gmail messages. Now outside developers can get in on the action by supporting the feature in apps downloaded from Google Play.

With this, people will be able to search for things like food or hotels in, say, Eat24 or TripAdvisor from any screen, not just inside those apps. In fact, since just uttering “OK Google” can wake certain phones, such as the Moto X or the upcoming Nexus 6, users can search apps without laying a single finger on the device if they want.

Deep Inside The Deep Links

Here’s how it works: Google parses the query, then hands the search directly over to the app named by the user (if it has been updated to support the feature). When the search results appear, they’ll include “deep links” that take people to relevant places or pages in the app.

See also: Google Search Extends Deep Into Apps With Android 4.4 KitKat

The company says it only takes a minor update amounting to a few short lines of code. Google’s Wednesday post on its developers blog explains:

… all you need is a small addition to your AndroidManifest.xml in order to connect the Google Now SEARCH_ACTION with your searchable activity:

<activity android:name=".SearchableActivity">
<action android:name="com.google.android.gms.actions.SEARCH_ACTION"/>
<category android:name="android.intent.category.DEFAULT"/>

Once you make these changes, your app can receive the SEARCH_ACTION intent containing the SearchManager.QUERY extra with the search expression.

The feature requires a minimum of Android Jelly Bean—that is, Android 4.1 or later—and the Google search app v3.5 or later. In addition, third-party apps must be set to the English language. Developers interested in taking this for a spin can do so immediately.

Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong

This sounds like an interesting advancement of the “OK Google” feature, and it could be an extremely convenient update. But it also raises a couple of concerns.

First, it gives Google direct access to everything we might search within apps, adding to its stockpile of data on its users. And second, from a purely practical standpoint, could strangers trigger it just by talking nearby? I’ve experienced something similar on both the LG G and Moto 360 watches, as Android Wear devices rely heavily on Google’s voice features.

Speaking of which, it seems logical that Android Wear and its growing army of smartwatches would also get in-app searching for Android’s baked-in voice search. And they will at some point—just not yet. 

I asked Google about smartwatch support, and Google spokesperson Josh Cruz told me that “the voice action is currently limited to phones and tablets. [But] we’re looking to extend it to other form factors in the coming months.” 

Photo by Adriana Lee for ReadWrite; screen shots captured from images courtesy of Google

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