Apple to Take on Google in Showing Immediate Search Results?

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About ten days ago, Rob Ousbey posted a video on his blog showing Google streaming updates to search results as he typed letters into a search box. As he typed out his query, not only did he see a dropdown of suggested queries, but the search results themselves actually changed as he added letters.

According to the comments in his post, Live Updating Google Search Results, these kind of streaming live results have been available through Google’s Ajax Search API for a while, but Rob’s post was the first documentation of Google testing the approach live on their own site. The first mention I’ve seen of Google immediately updating search results as someone typed their query was in a Google patent filing that I wrote about back in 2005, Can Google Read Your Mind? Processing Predictive Queries.

But Google isn’t the only one to file a patent on automatically updating search results.

Apple was granted a patent this week on a very similar process:

Immediate search feedback
Invented by Scott James Forstall, Donald D. Melton, John William Sullivan, and Darin Benjamin Adler
Assigned to Apple Inc.
US Patent 7,788,248
Granted August 31, 2010
Filed: March 8, 2005


Providing immediate search feedback is disclosed. Search input is received within a search field of a web browser application. Based on characteristics of the search input, a determination is made whether to automatically submit a query to a search engine. In one aspect, the query is automatically submitted to the search engine.

The query is based on the received first search input. Results are displayed within the web browser application, the results web page returned from the query submitted to the search engine.

This search-as-you-type approach may best be illustrated by screen shots from the patent, which show that the process can be turned on or off in a browser, and results can be found through a search engine such as Google.

Apple’s screen shots show search results automatically changing when letters are entered into a search box use the term “ipod” as an example, starting with the letter “i”.

Google search results after the letter i was entered into the search box

One thing these screenshots don’t show are the query suggestions that Google now shows to searchers which attempt to predict query terms based upon what might have been typed so far, to suggest possible queries. Since the patent was originally filed back in 2005, around the time when Google was first experimenting with their Google Suggest feature, that’s not a surprise. Note that the results change after a “p” is entered into the search box.

Google’s pending patent which I mentioned I wrote about in a link above focuses more upon Google showing query suggestions as someone types into a search box, but it also stresses that it may also update search results as a searcher types. It’s not quite clear from the claims and description of Google’s patent application whether it would show results based upon what might have been typed, or if those results might be based upon what is suggested in their query suggestions.

Again, the search results change after the letter o is typed

It’s interesting that Apple might build into a browser a method of updating search results as someone types. I don’t think I would take it as a sign that Apple is considering building a search engine, but the idea that they might incorporate a feature that works with a search interface in such a manner shows that they aren’t ignoring ways to improve search on the Web.

apple immediate search feedback

The patent also shows a possible browser control box that users can change settings on to either turn the feature on or off, and to control other ways that the feature might work.

A browser control box showing Immediate Search Settings, including a slider to set a time delay before queries might be automatically submitted.


It’s possible that what Rob Ousbey saw and saved as a video was a live experiment from Google which might determine whether or not everyone someday starts seeing immediately updating search results as they type. I checked on the status of Google’s patent application involving predictive search queries, and it looks like it might possibly be granted sometime soon.

It’s also possible that if Google doesn’t offer the feature, we might see Apple offer it to Safari users.

And Apple might offer the feature on search engines other than just Google.

Are streaming updated query results something that you might want?

Are they something that makes a search experience better?

Might they influence searchers to select search results other than the ones they originally intended to find?

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34 thoughts on “Apple to Take on Google in Showing Immediate Search Results?”

  1. It might be useful if you are unsure about a particular search term, at least it would serve as a guide. However, if you know what you want to search for then it’s really of no use. But, it would not really hurt if they place it on search engines. It may not please everybody but at least, somehow, they’re helping some.

  2. “Might they influence searchers to select search results other than the ones they originally intended to find?” This scares me as well as I have a bad feeling this will be the case! I hope I’m not right.

  3. ” Might they influence searchers to select search results other than the ones they originally intended to find? ” absolutely, there is a high probability of this to happen. ‘Drop down of suggest query’ is more than enough and it is useful for users but I don’t know how much ‘ search result as you type’ feature will work in favor of users.

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  5. Am I the only one wondering how much bandwidth something like this would take? I mean sure we’re all getting used to really fast internet connections but still, writing a 20 letter search query would then literally mean 20 searches instead of one, right?

    Other than that the concept seems totally awesome.

  6. Howdy Bill,

    I think streaming query results would indeed cause a lot of clicks that were originally unintended. However, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why this hasn’t been the standard all along. I’m curious to know which way you would prefer Bill?

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  8. I think it will be a little annoyiong, if you misstype ipad > ipat you will see the resultst for i, ip, ipa, ipat, ipa, ipad.

    I hope that the disable function is easy to reach.

  9. Hi Andrew,

    I’m wondering if the biggest value in this approach is an entertainment value more than anything else.

    But then again, with Universal Search and the possibility of images, videos, news, and more showing up in search results, there may be plenty of things that might distract a searcher from the original query that they were going to type into a search box. Those may be more tempting than just a text link.

    Google has been experimenting with things other than textual links in their dropdown query suggestions, such as ads, weather information, and more. It might be better of those things were included on the search results page than in a dropdown.

  10. Hi Carl,

    I think it’s true that just the suggested URLs in the dropdown box under a search is influencing some searchers to look at search results for queries that they may not have originally intended to type. It’s probably more likely that a search result page updating on the fly will influence even more likely, especially when things like timely news might be included.

  11. Hi Jernej,

    I don’t know how much additional bandwidth it might add, but chances are that it would add some. If you start typing out a query and your suggested term is shown in the dropdown, how likely are you to slide down and click on that? Some people will, so that might save some bandwith. If you see a set of search results that fits what you’re looking for before you finish typing all of the words of your originally query, that might save some bandwith as well.

    Apple wouldn’t be concerned about the cost of bandwidth if they introduce a browser feature that does this, but Google might. Then again, it looks like Google was experimenting with it, so maybe they aren’t that concerned about the costs. And it also possibly allows them to present more ads to searchers, so maybe they might feel that it’s worth the cost.

  12. Hi Donnie,

    I still remember the days of seeing “hold on, your results for your search are being generated,” when it took search engines seconds to find results rather than milliseconds. I’m not sure how important type-as-you-go results were back then. The dropdown query suggestions that we see now became important, especially for searchers with mobile phones who had limited keyboards and were likely to appreciate not having to type out their full queries.

    I don’t think I really need to see search results streaming like this, but I have a suspicion that if Google (or Apple) decides to move forward with these, I might like them.

  13. Hi Arvid,

    I wonder if Google’s auto spell correction might kick in on results for terms like i-p-a-t and show you ipad results anyway.

    I do think that there are people who will quickly be searching for a way to turn off that kind of streaming feature as fast as they can, though.

  14. As an SEO I often ask myself what is next – as in where will this industry and everything that surrounds it be in 3 or 5 years and I’ve got to say this blog post has given me plenty of food for thought. The marriage between linguistics and probability that can (perhaps) describe the field of search engine optimizer is to my mind heading toward the former in the years to come….

  15. Bill, you’re probably right. I tried this search last night and it turned out to be really great. But then again I’m on a 20mbit line so multiple search queries shouldn’t be a problem anyway. I’ll try it out at work on my crappy connection.

  16. @Jernej,

    I tried to perform some basic queries last night on my ‘crappy connection’ at home…. and IT SUCKED! I personally love the automatic updating results, but I think it’s going to cost Google some sort of search share because it was almost impossible for me to get a full search through on a (unremittingly very) slow connection.

  17. Hi Matthew,

    I think it pays to be proactive when you can be, and keep in mind that things have the potential to change.

    To a degree, the purpose behind showing immediate search results more than anything might be to create the perception of how responsive Google is to queries.

    I’m not sure that changing search results as a searcher types is going to hijack too many searchers from the original queries they intended to look for, at least not too many more than might have been sidetracked by the drop-down suggested queries Google’s been showing in its main search results since 2008, and in their toolbar and mobile search even longer ago than that.

    But colorful image and video results and timely news results might cause some detours, and result in some uncompleted searches.

  18. Hi Jernej,

    I’m wondering if Google is trying to compensate for the bandwidth usage by Google Instant in other ways.

    I’m noticing that my “100 search results” preference for Google results keeps on switching itself over to “10 results” on its own. I changed it back to “100 results” four times, and it changed itself back to “10 result.” Google also isn’t keeping my search terms and sidebar selection (blog search, for instance) when I go into search settings and make that change – it brings me back to the front page of Google instead.

  19. Hi Donnie,

    I guess that’s why they include a way to opt out of Google Instant results with a link at the top of the page when you start seeing them.

    I don’t know if it would have been a better choice to let people opt in to using Google Instant. How many people would have tried it?

  20. I wonder whether one reason Google Instant hasn’t made its debut until very recently is because Google simply had to assure their infrastructure could handle the additional load? The rapidity of Instant vs good old Google Suggest I’m sure came at the cost of greater bandwidth requirements to funnel a lot more info via AJAX per unit time than its earlier counterpart.

  21. Darth, I think you’re right with the largely increased bandwidth requirements. On the other hand, I don’t think the technology has increased the amount of actual searches performed by their server. When you think about it, they probably cache all the “suggested searches” anyway (since there is a limited number of them).

  22. Hi Winston,

    I think many of those searches are cached as well, and it’s possible that some of the features that were available to us in the past through Google no longer are because of that. That’s probably something I should write a post about.

  23. I’ve also noticed that Google seems to be possibly ‘shaving off’ bandwidth elsewhere when instant search is enabled. I’ve also been served truncated SERPs too – that’s to say, SERPs where only two or three results show. Sometimes I have to go back and start my search all over again, before the big G will hit me with a full set of ten!

  24. Hi Neil,

    When the Google Instant announcement was made on the Official Google Blog, they did mention that they took a lot of steps towards changing the way the did caching of search results in a number of ways, but didn’t really go into specifics. They do seem to be doing a number of things to try to limit both bandwidth, and computational processing for searches.

  25. My name is Pal Sahota and the company name is Pal Systems Ltd. This is the same technology I invented it in 1989 and I called it search-as-you-type. Google are calling it under a few names including Search-as-you-Type (SayT) see below links.
    And their demo video on
    The name of search-as-you-type was coined by me and used as our branded product and this can be clearly seen in the newspaper articles in my blog.
    There are also two videos made in 1991 which can also be seen from this blog.
    Watching these videos it can be clearly seen that the data is accessed in the same way as shown in the above Google demo!

    My product Autodispens used search-as-you-type everywhere and not just for accessing data. I believe that every type of “real time parsing algorithm” application is covered in this extensive program and this was done in DOS and on the very first PC’s. Am I going to have to pay royalties to use my own product done in 1989!
    Until 2008 software in the UK was not patentable but was automatically covered under the copyright law. Is the US undermining UK copyright laws! There are dozens of concepts that I have developed based on this. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if there is any question you wish to ask me.

  26. Hi Pal,

    Thanks for telling us about the technology you developed. The ideas behind search-as-you-type software does predate what the search engines (and Apple) describe in their patents.

    I don’t know how much of an overlap there might be on the products that you developed, and the technology described in the patents from Google and Apple. I do know that Microsoft and Yahoo also have patents in the same area as well.

    If you’re concerned that they have patented, and are using technology that you developed, you may want to contact an attorney to see what might be done about it, and to find out more about how UK and US law may overlap.

  27. Hi Bill

    Thank you for the advice. I am looking into an IP attorney and an Expert witness who would work on a no-win no-fee basis! Any suggestions? I would recommend that your readers look up the links suggested in my above and this comments.

    Additional arguments are listed below :

    The details of the Google patent can be found on many sites usually with my comments below. Below link is one such site.
    The “flow diagrams” however would have been almost identical to Google’s if I had been allowed to patent the product in the UK. Software was automatically covered under copyright laws until 2008 in the UK and could not be patented before that.
    What I done was more than a mere “search as you type”. The issues are listed below.
    Google are claiming to have discovered something ‘no one ‘had ever thought of in that “searching a database between each key press!”. They are even calling it search-as-you-type in the same format as I used it! See the newspaper articles on my blog. Below is the link showing Google’s claim.
    Watch Google’s demo video below.
    There are also two videos made by me in 1991 which can also be seen from my blog. Watching these videos it can be clearly seen that the data is accessed in the same way as shown in the above Google demo! This is the same “user-interface”
    Both Google’s and my video’s, search the data from the hard drive at each key press. The data is different (web pages or records) but the algorithm is almost identical in accessing the data! The appropriate parts of the data are shown as a list of options and the most appropriate is highlighted (selected if Enter Key pressed). The user-interface is the same in that “what is typed and the displayed result”. See my blog under “How Autodispens saves time?” subheading “I can read your mind”.
    Google are also ‘giving’ this technology in a ‘generic’ format for anybody who wants to use in irrespective of the application!! The technology ‘given’ away is not for accessing web pages but for general use in the link below (also shown above).
    If a pharmacy software supplier ‘clicked’ and got the software for their application, it would directly compete with what I was selling! This implies that with Google’s current ‘acquisition’ of the patient, I would be ‘infringing’ on their patent even though I done it 20 years ago!! This implies that what I did and Google’s patent overlap.
    Google’s ‘Instant’ patent can also be thought of as ‘prior art’ in that the “idea and ways to implement it” was thought of 20 years ago. Patents should be granted for products/processes not done before or not obvious to persons in the field. After knowing about my product which was done 20 odd years ago it doesn’t take a genius to adapt it for the web or to file a patent on it. On their Patent my product isn’t even mentioned in the list of references.
    I spent over 10 years developing and perfecting this product and I have been left with nothing. I feel that my product contained more than just a simple search-as-you-type, indeed about 3 patents can be made from the technology that I pioneered. This was a remarkable achievement when you consider the product was done in DOS and on old PC’s like the basic PC, 286, 386, 486 and pentium 1. The result was ‘lightning’ fast searches which are not still achieved with other search-as-you-type programs with the latest processors. I would like the recognition for what I did for me and my children’s sake. I would like to come to some arrangement with whoever wants the ‘legitimate’ rights to this technology. I would also be willing to share other technologies developed in this product. I am an original thinker and I think I could help any software company development company produce applications in real time with originality!

  28. Hi Pal,

    I’ve written a number of blog posts about patents from Google and Yahoo involving predictive search, with the oldest one at:

    Can Google Read Your Mind? Processing Predictive Queries

    I’d like to say that a patent that may include some of the same processes, or overlaps, isn’t the same as a patent that covers the same unique invention. Google’s predictive queries do include an element that updates possible query suggestions as you type, but it isn’t just an autocomplete algorithm. Part of the process involves determining which terms might be appropriate to display as suggestions, based upon previous users queries and searches.

    After watching the first of your videos, it does appear that the final unique invention described in Google’s patent is very different than what you’ve come up with. But that’s just my personal opinion, and I would recommend that you talk to someone very well versed in intellectual property, such as an IP attorney.

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