If the data logs at Google are any guide, the North Pole was a well-stocked subsidiary of Apple this Christmas. According to internal data shared with The New York Times, Google saw more cell phone traffic from iPhones on Christmas Day than from any other kind of mobile device, despite the fact that the iPhone accounts for just 2 percent of the global smartphone market.
The iPhone only enjoyed its search lead at Google for a couple of days; more than 60 percent of the world's smartphones are powered by the Symbian operating system, and searches from those phones quickly surpassed the iPhone searches. But nonetheless, the Christmas surge was a remarkable demonstration of the iPhone's potential to reshape the mobile Web space.
Analysts give much of the credit to the iPhone's large screen and built-in Safari browser, which makes surfing the Web on the iPhone much closer to the desktop experience than the typical smartphone.
Apparently, engineers at Google agreed that Apple got browsing right. Following the launch of the iPhone at last year's MacWorld, Steve Kanefsky, an engineer on the Google mobile team, began experimenting with ways to use AJAX to improve the performance of Google apps on Apple's iPhone.
"I set out to create an application that would preload my favorite Google products and allow me to switch between them instantly," Kanefsky wrote last month on the Google mobile blog. "I wanted Web results as well as image, local and news results without having to repeat my search. I wanted to check Gmail and my news feeds in Google Reader without having to load a new page every time."
Kanefsky said that after he demonstrated an initial prototype, several weeks of feverish development led to the first release of Google's iPhone apps, dubbed "Grand Prix."
Just six weeks later, on the opening day of the 2008 Macworld conference, Google unveiled the latest version of Grand Prix. The new interface allows users to switch more easily from one application to another. The search engine company has also substantially improved the speed of the application, added an auto-completion feature, and now refreshes the Gmail inbox automatically.
Looking to the Future
According to Vic Gundotra, vice president of Google mobile and a developer at Google, the work that Google has done on Grand Prix will offer additional dividends in the near future. Gundotra told CNet's Elinor Mills that Grand Prix will run well on Android, the mobile platform unveiled by Google and a consortium of other mobile companies last November.
The speed with which Grand Prix was developed (just three months from idea to version 2.0) should set off alarm bells up the coast in Redmond, Wash., where Microsoft continues to struggle in its efforts to upgrade and simplify its mobile OS. It seems unlikely that "Grand Prix" was an accidental choice of name.
The interesting question, of course, will be whether (and just how quickly) queries from Android-driven smartphones make an appreciable impact on Google's server logs.