A new mobile version of Google Instant Previews is useful in ways that the desktop version never was.
The search tool will now automatically appear on Android phones running version 2.2 and up, and iPhones running iOS 4. Next to every search result, you’ll see a little magnifying glass. Tapping it takes you to a new page that shows a snapshot for each search result, along with a snippet of text. You can swipe back and forth to get a glimpse of all 10 websites on the first page of search results, and then tap the one you want to visit.
Google says Instant Previews come in handy when you’re looking for a specific kind of article, such as a step-by-step guide or product comparison chart, and don’t want to click through to each individual link. By viewing results side-by-side, you can get a sense of what each page has to offer.
On laptops and desktops, where Google has offered Instant Previews since November, I’ve found the graphical results more distracting than satisfying. Unless you disable the previews by clicking on the magnifying glass, they pop up whenever you hover the mouse over a link. To me, that just makes it harder to concentrate on the actual search results.
On smartphones, however, Instant Previews seem more useful. For starters, they don’t appear unless you click on the magnifying glass icon. And when you’re the road, you don’t have the luxury of opening a dozen browser tabs and sucking up heaps of data, so the previews might actually save time.
That said, I haven’t spent a lot of time with Instant Previews on my iPhone. Like any Google search tweak, it’ll take a bit of everyday use to figure out whether it’s really helpful. But at least on smartphones, Instant Previews is an unobtrusive new option for search.