Searching is Google's bread-and-butter, and the Google Mobile App for the iPhone (and the iPod touch) searches the Web and your mobile device with ease. If only Google's other web applications worked as transparently, or as well.
Arriving on the scene at the same time as the App Store, the free program is a unified tool that searches your address book, Web sites, contacts, and businesses near your current location simultaneously. Google has become so good at searches that it anticipates what you're looking for. Once you start typing in the Mobile App, suggestions appear as a vertical list or as common search terms along the bottom of the screen. It's a helpful, time-saving function. Pressing the Web site link takes you directly to the Web page via Safari, while tapping the search term brings up Google's search results page.
Mobile App also searches your address book. Google lists the search results with a special Contact icon on the left-hand side of the search result and a green phone icon that lets you place a call directly from the app.
Most impressive is the way Google Mobile App takes advantage of the iPhone's location detection feature to search for nearby businesses. Type "gas station" or "smog check," for example, and among the various Web page search results you will see an option for "search... near me." Simply tap the link and Google instantly launches iPhone's Maps application. All of the gas stations or smog check centers in your area will appear as pins on the map.
But Google's other services--accessed by tapping on the Explore More Google Products option--leave plenty to be desired on the iPhone. While Google Mobile App lets you launch a mobile version of Gmail, unless you're routing mail to the iPhone's mailbox, you may find it inconvenient to access your Gmail through Google's clumsy and cumbersome mobile interface. Answering a short e-mail can be an exercise in frustration. A simple "reply" button near the top of the screen would save time and a lot of aggravation.
And don't even think about using Blogger from your iPhone, unless you text-message your updates, which involves e-mailing Blogger and receiving a special "claim token." Who needs that kind of aggravation when WordPress and TypePad users can simply download free applications that let them post or upload pictures or other files in a matter of seconds?
It's not as if Google doesn't want iPhone users to explore more of its products. There is a big button on the main search screen that says, "Explore more Google products." Better to stick with the searches for now.
Google Mobile App is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.0 software update.
[Ben Boychuk is a freelance writer and columnist in Rialto, Calif.]