Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Circle to Search—how Google AI is making smartphones human

The feature will initially be available on Samsung's new Galaxy S24 series and Google's Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro phones

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Jan 19, 2024 11:28:22 AM IST
Updated: Jan 19, 2024 12:01:50 PM IST

Circle to Search—how Google AI is making smartphones humanCircle to Search is the latest in Google’s stable of AI and machine learning based features for end users on their smartphones that are making such interactions ever more human.
Those of you who caught Samsung’s Unpacked event two days ago would have seen a Google vice president of search coming up on stage to describe a new AI feature on the latest Galaxy phone, developed by Google.   

Google calls it ‘Circle to Search’, and that’s exactly what it is. See something you’re browsing that you want to know more about? Well, now just circle it, and you’ll get what the geeks would call multi-modal search results, meaning across text, images and so on.   

Android users would be familiar with Google Lens, where you can use the phone camera and search for more information on a picture, or how you can hum a song and ask Google what song it is—a feature released in 2020.   

Circle to Search is the latest in Google’s stable of AI and machine learning based features for end users on their smartphones that are making such interactions ever more human.   

“With a simple gesture, you can select what you’re curious about in whatever way comes naturally to you—like circling, highlighting, scribbling or tapping—and get more information right where you are,” Cathy Edwards, a Google VP and GM for Search, writes in a blog post, explaining how easy it is to use this feature.   

Edwards first presented this feature at Samsung’s January 17 event. An important aspect of this feature is that it allows you to search on whichever app or website you are on, without having to leave it, making it a minimally distracting task so you can continue to go on and finish what you were doing on the app in the first place.  

The possibilities are endless. It could be just about searching for more on a new pair of running shoes you saw on some website, for example. Or imagine just circling a dish on a food delivery app and getting more info on how healthy it is for you.   

This will be first available on Samsung’s latest Galaxy S24 smartphone that’s just been released, and on Google’s own Pixel 8 and Pixel 8 Pro phones.   

Just long press on the home button, and instead of the Google Assistant, you’ll now bring up Circle to Search. You can then circle, or scribble or highlight or tap… “and just like that, your curiosity is satisfied,” Edwards said in her presentation at Galaxy Unpacked.   

“And when you are done you can just swipe away, and you’re right back where you started.”  

Also read: Can Apple upset Samsung's applecart in India?

One last point. For Samsung fans, apart from the latest flagship phone, a more important release is Galaxy AI, Samsung’s own new AI system for its phones aimed at making the devices much more intuitive to use. Among the features Samsung has released are live transcript, and a bunch of AI assistants.   

All of this also reflects how the Google-Samsung partnership is evolving. Google was once accused of pushing OEMs to favour its own proprietary products. It’s now a fait accompli that Samsung is doubling down on its own strengths, like making fantastic smartphones, while embracing and integrating the best of Google AI.   

And Galaxy AI shows that Samsung will continue its own AI investments to make its phones ever more user friendly. These are all good things for us users.