What we know about Google's Circle to Search and latest AI updates

Samsung’s latest Galaxy S24 smartphones series will use US company's AI platform Gemini

Google has launched new AI-powered features to boost search results. Reuters
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Google unveiled two major updates, Circle to Search and a new generative artificial intelligence-powered search experience, as the AI industry heats up and the company aims to attract more users by modifying how they interact with search engines.

The Circle to Search feature will allow users to search for information on their Android smartphones without switching apps. They can do it by using intuitive gestures such as circling, highlighting, scribbling or just tapping, the company said.

This new functionality, expected to debut globally on select Android smartphones from January 31, will be available on Google-owned Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro smartphones, and South Korean company Samsung’s latest Galaxy S24 series phones that were launched during an Unpacked event in San Jose on Wednesday.

It will be available in all supported languages and locations where these phones are available, Google said.

“When you are truly immersed in a moment of discovery or exploration, it can feel disruptive to stop what you are doing and switch to another app to learn more,” said Cathy Edwards, vice president for Google Search.

“With a simple gesture, you can select what you are curious about in whatever way comes naturally to you … like circling, highlighting or scribbling … and get more information right where you are.”

How will Circle to Search work?

With the new feature, users do not need to switch to another app to explore more.

For example, if a user wants to know more about an item that a creator is displaying in an "outfit of the day" video, they can press the home button or navigation bar on the phone to activate Circle to Search.

From there, they can select any item with a preferred gesture, like circling a hand bag, to quickly find similar, shoppable options from retailers across the web. Similarly, they can scribble on any other item and find more information without leaving the page.

Besides information collected from different sources, users can also ask additional questions.

For example, while scrolling through a cooking website, if they come across a recipe mentioning sous-vide, they can ask a question, like "why are these so popular" and find out more details about the cooking technique.

AI-powered search experience

Google has also announced AI-powered overviews for multisearch in lens that will allow users to point their camera at whatever they see (or upload a photo or screenshot), ask a question about it, and get quick AI-generated insights.

For example, while browsing through a novel in a foreign language, users can click a photo of the book cover, and ask a question like "what is this novel about?" and instantly receive an AI-powered summary that compiles information from various sources.

“Launch of AI-powered insights for multisearch is the result of testing we began last year to see how gen AI can make Search radically more helpful … but we have only just scratched the surface of what's possible,” said Elizabeth Reid, vice president for Search.

“This gives you the ability to ask more complex or nuanced questions about what you see, and quickly find and understand key information,” she added.

The new feature will be launched in English language in the US market and no Search Labs enrolment is required, Google said. It can be accessed by looking for the Lens camera icon in the Google app for Android and Apple’s iOS operating systems.

However, if users are outside the US but have opted for Google’s SGE (search generative experience) programme, they can preview this new feature in the Google app.

Google’s Gemini to be on Samsung’s Galaxy S24

Google said Samsung’s latest Galaxy S24 smartphones will use its AI platform Gemini to offer a new way to search on the devices.

Today’s updates will make Search even more natural and intuitive, but we've only just scratched the surface of what's possible
Elizabeth Reid, vice president for Search at Google

Users will be able to access Gemini through apps and services built by Samsung, said Hiroshi Lockheimer, senior vice president for platforms and ecosystems at Google.

Google’s generative AI tool Bard got its biggest upgrade last month as the company launched Gemini, its largest and most capable AI model yet.

Gemini can generalise and understand, operate across and combine different types of information including text, code, audio, image and video.

Updated: January 18, 2024, 10:21 AM