New AI Updates in Google Search & Chrome
2023 might be known as the year of generative AI, but the start of 2024 hasn’t shown any signs of slowing. Google alone has announced numerous AI updates this January. On January 17th Google announced two major AI updates to search and last Tuesday three new features for Chrome were revealed. There’s a lot to cover so let’s get to it!
Google announces two major AI updates to search
Earlier this month Google introduced two major updates to search: Circle to Search and AI-powered insights for multisearch. The real takeaway from Google’s announcement is what didn’t go live though. But first, a quick overview of the new generative AI search features!
Circle to Search
Circle (or highlight or scribble) to Search gives users the ability to search anything on their screen without switching apps. Android users with a support device can long press the home button and then begin a search by selecting text, images or even video on their screen. Circle to Search is limited to Samsung Galaxy S24 series devices and will be coming to the Pixel 8 & Pixel 8 Pro by the end of January. If you already have Google Assistant enabled (on your Samsung Galaxy S24 series devices), you can enable Circle to Search by going to Settings > Navigation > Navigation bar. The GIFs below (made from Google’s videos) demonstrate how this new feature works:
AI-powered insights for multisearch
Multisearch is a Google Lens feature that lets users search with a combination of images and text. Soon Google will be taking things to the next level by letting users ask questions about the images they’re search for. Below is a GIF (made from a Google video) demonstrating how AI-powered multisearch will work:
Google Lens is available in the Google Photos and the Google App on iPhone, but not Google Assistant. And for Android users, Google Lens is available in Google Photos, the Google App and Google Assistant (on most Android phones). Check out Google’s documentation for more help enabling and using Google Lens. AI-powered insights and overviews will also be available within Circle to Search multisearch results.
SGE remains a search experiment
The most important announcement from Google this month was actually regarding a feature that didn’t go live – Search Generative Experience, or SGE. In Google’s January 17th announcement they stated that SGE will remain a search experiment. No hints or possible rollout schedules have been provided since the experiment was extended into 2024. In my opinion, this is most important part of entire announcement:
“[W]e’ll continue to offer SGE in Labs as a testbed for bold new ideas. But our goal is to make AI helpful for everyone, not just early adopters…”
Google, in essence, admitted the SGE isn’t ready for primetime and will be a long-term experiment. The SEO community seems to be divided into two camps. There’s some that believe this is the end of SGE and others believe it’s a minor delay of the inevitable. I’m somewhere in the middle. I think it’s just a matter of time before we see more AI-powered results showing up in Google Search. But the pressure put on Alphabet (Google’s parent company) by the launch of ChatGPT and Bing Chat has subsided a little so it could be a while.
Chrome gets 3 new AI features
Less than a week ago Google announced three exciting generative AI features coming to Chrome. The first AI update coming to Google Chrome is the Tab Organizer. Tab Groups in Chrome allow users to manage and organize their tabs, but it’s a manual process. Tab Organizer will use generative AI to automatically recommend tab groups. The GIF below (made from a Google video) shows how this new feature will work:
The next Chrome AI update is really bringing an Android feature to Chrome. Last year Google introduced generative AI wallpapers to Android 14 and Pixel 8 devices. With this update, users will be able to use this same feature to customize their Chrome theme. Start by clicking Customize Chrome in the side panel and click Change theme and then Create with AI (see GIF below made from Google video). Peep this collection of generative AI Chrome themes curated by the team at Google.
Lastly, Google will be making it easier to get help writing on the web with their new “help me write” feature. Starting with next month’s Chrome release, users will be able to right click on text boxes while browsing in Chrome to get AI-powered help. The image below from Google shows how this feature will look and work:
These new AI features in Google Search and Chrome might be a novelty for now. But it’s interesting to see so many new features come while SGE is delayed. Seeing how Bing failed to seize much market share with Bing Chat, Google probably isn’t feeling the pressure. But I imagine it’s just a matter of time before we see SGE or something similar go live.