If you run a Google search for “bubble level” on your smartphone, you might expect to see results that tell you the definition of the term, apps that approximate the functionality of a bubble level, and e-commerce sites that will happily sell you a physical product. But, in addition to those relevant results, searching for “bubble level” or “spirit level” via Google on a smartphone will now actually turn your phone into a bubble level, with no need to download an app or navigate to a new page.
Bubble levels are useful for a number of mundane tasks, like hanging pictures, and bubble level apps aren’t anything new. These apps tap into a phone’s tilt sensor, which is more commonly used to automatically swap between portrait and landscape display, and usually include both bulls-eye and tubular modes for use on flat surfaces and walls alike. Free versions are available for every mobile operating system, and iOS actually has a baked-in bubble level that you can access through the compass app.
This is definitely a neat trick, but while it might come in handy in a pinch, the availability of free bubble level apps bring into question whether this kind of functionality even matters. After all, iOS users already have a built-in bubble level, and owners of other smartphones can download a free one pretty easily. Is being able to access a bubble level via a simple Google search really that big a deal?
While being able to access a free bubble level by searching Google for “bubble level” really isn’t that big a deal in and of itself, the implications actually are kind of interesting. When you get right down to it, the important takeaway here is that Google is delivering a functioning app embedded in search results that satisfies a very likely query intent, which is huge for the search giant.
Google made its reputation by providing good search results in an easy to navigate manner, but the search giant made its bones in online advertising. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the big G doesn’t actually want users to click through to native search results, when viewing and clicking through to paid ads is actually where the company makes its money. With that in mind, Google has long sought for ways to keep users on page, or to satisfy query intents without actually losing any eyeballs, via initiatives like semantic search and the knowledge graph.
Today, searching Google for “bubble level” on your phone gets you a bubble level. Maybe tomorrow searching for “compass” will return a functioning compass. After that, who knows? In a world where you can hang straighter pictures and play a touchscreen version of Pac-Man without ever leaving your browser, only time will tell what little tricks Google will come out with next.
[Screengrab via Android/Chrome]