I don’t think I’m smarter than the engineers at Google, but they’ve done something that really surprises me because it doesn’t seem very smart. They adapted Google Flight Search to mobile devices, both iOS and Android, but not as an app, at least on the Apple platform. And frankly, it is disappointing.
That’s too bad, because Google Flight Search has gotten better since it launched in September (I was not wild about it at the time) and being able to do a fairly sophisticated search when you’re on the go would be a very useful function.
What I like best about Flight Search when I use it on my laptop is a feature that lets you see changes in prices over time. When you pick a range of dates, you’ll see a horizontal bar graph. As you scroll down the graph, the bars will show you prices for your flights over a period of months. That’s especially useful if you’re planning a vacation and want to schedule at a time when prices are decent.
When you get to a short (that is, inexpensive) bar in the graph, you click on it and you’ll see the dates and an exact price. Awesome. There’s another function that gives you a scatter graph with sliders on the X and Y axis that let you trade off flight duration and price. For example, if you’re willing to take 10 hours instead of 6 hours or so to go coast-to-coast you’ll save money.
But try and do the same thing on your iPhone or iPad, and it doesn’t work nearly as well.
At first, I thought the issue might be the size of the relatively small iPhone screen. But trying it out on iPad2 the results were the same. Those extra slick features simply aren’t there.
Why is that? Google has said in the past that it has problems working with mobile browsers, such as Safari. That may be Apple’s fault, or it may not be, but it’s a significant limitation that you see in many Googe desktop features moved over to mobile devices.
(I did not test Flight Search on an Android device, but I’ll bet the same problem exists. Even though Google controls Android, its desktop products don’t port very well.)
Interestingly, though, when I tried using the Opera Mini browser I reviewed earlier this month, the interface on my iPhone was quite different than the interface via Safari. Most of the laptop features were there. The problem, though, is since the screen is small, it’s harder to use the sliders and the price graph than with a mouse.
The fact that Opera does a better job than Safari tells me that Google could figure out a way to improve on Flight Search Mobile, maybe as an app, or maybe with some clever programming. Google, by the way, is not strong on apps, because it is so committed to everything running in the cloud.
The bottom line here is this: You can use Flight Search on your mobile device and it is useful, but not nearly as slick as I had hoped.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.