Saturday, August 06, 2005

Google SMS: my latest show-and-tell

I pretty consistently have some technology product/service that I think is cool that I evangelize and show off to anyone and everyone that I meet. A couple of weeks ago, it was Google Earth. Five years ago (give or take) it was my home WiFi network, back in 1996 when I was living in Washington D.C. and working for American Management Systems it was my Palm III organizer (back in the US Robotics days, before 3com and everything else that has followed). For a while recently it was Lookout (and Google Desktop and X1, but mostly Lookout since it's what I use the most).

The thing I've been show-and-telling most recently is Google SMS. I use SMS a fair bit, the most when I'm out of the country or when Shonali is out of the country -- so I'm pretty good with text entry using T9 and I love everything about the user interface on my Nokia cell phone (including how it learns proper nouns in my 'vocabulary' that weren't built into its dictionary -- I should write about my love of my Nokia 6610 another time). So I've known about Google SMS for a while, but I only recently started using it. It's great. No more 411 and it does a whole lot more. I was in San Jose on Wednesday of this week and on my way to a meeting, I decided I needed some coffee -- I punched in the zipcode for where I was (I had it because I had just checked into my hotel and it was on the receipt) and 'starbucks' and I instantly got a list of all the nearby locations. I was parked at a Starbucks within about 2 minutes. Likewise, I've used it to get restaurant numbers, movie showtimes, and more. It just works. Now it certainly has it's limitations. There's no interactivity and the response time between input and output isn't that great (again, not Google's fault -- it's just about the way SMS works). This just means I have to know exactly what I'm looking for. Text entry can also be difficult for some people, so those people will continue to use 411's voice-based technology. Also, for someone whose not done any serious sms'ing, I'd imagine the menus might seem esoteric for a query response sequence.

I've also briefly tried Google's richer XHTML based portal for mobile devices (mobile.google.com, I think) and it improves on a lot. Again, like their SMS product, the results of this product are extremely well suited to the target device (which translates to "it just works!" in terms of user reaction). You can iterate more with your queries on this device, though the Cingular Edge Treo 650 that I tried it on was still laggier than I had hoped. I could search Google Local for a restaurant or a restaurant category and not only get a phone number and address, but I got a map (that I could zoom in and out of) and the ability to get driving directions. Similarly, I could look up movie times and more. I didn't have enough time to use it in real life, but I could tell that there was quite a bit of promise behind the concept.

Google SMS is great, if you can get the hang of using SMS, I predict it will be invaluable to you.

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