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Google is holding the best new Android feature hostage to Pixel and Galaxy: Free “Circle to search"!

Posted April 14, 2024 | Articles | Mobile

So, speaking of anti-competitive practices… wink, wink…

Many say it’s a gimmick, and I couldn’t disagree more… Google’s new “Circle to search” feature technically doesn’t do anything new but the way it does it is the simple, yet magical bit of innovation all phones need. But not all phones get.

Having debuted on the Galaxy S24 series, Circle to Search has now made its way on to the Galaxy S23, Galaxy Z Flip/Fold 5 series, and of course, Google’s own Pixel 8, Pixel 7, and Pixel 6 phones.

But there’s a small problem… It seems like Google and Samsung’s strong relationship is building up to a familiar “walled garden”, where other Android phones aren’t allowed to play. More about that in a bit, but first – here’s why “Circle to Search” is the coolest new Android feature Google won’t let your Android phone have…

The best new Android feature is the most simple Android feature ever; changes the way you “Google”

As Google puts it, you can already ask your Android phone questions using your voice, thanks to the Google Assistant; you can search images with Google Lens (an early version of “Circle to Search”), or even search for the name of a song by humming it.

But “Circle to Search” might just be the most intuitive way to search on your Android phone ever. For example, running an image search/looking up photos used to be a pain in the rear for me, and I wouldn’t even bother doing it… until now.

With Circle to Search, all I need to do is hold down the home “key” on my Pixel to immediately find a location I’ve seen online, or identify all sorts of things like shops, streets, animals, plants, cars is pretty magical.

In a different example, I currently need to copy and paste eBay messages in a foreign language into Google Translate to get them translated. Or what’s even more annoying, screenshot and load the images onto Google Translate… Caveman stuff.

Is Google and Samsung’s partnership holding the coolest new Android feature hostage?

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Your Android phone can already “search” your screen – it only needs the “circle” update, which Google keeps exclusive to Pixel and Galaxy flagships.

See, Android features like Circle to Search make me consider switching from my iPhone 13. It goes without saying, Circle to Search or a variation of it is a feature I think Apple must borrow for iOS 18.

I’m glad AI is helping Android find a way back to its roots (pun for the nerds who root their phones – intended). Such smart and useful features remind me of the time Android phones practised superiority over the iPhone through features – not by mimicking Apple’s design choices.

In that line of thought, I’m not sure when/if Circle to Search is going to make its way onto every Android phone running Android 14, but I know it should, because it’s that cool and useful.

With Google now actively making and pushing its own phones, and with the Android maker’s constantly evolving partnership with Samsung, it’s a bit unclear which new “Android features” are saved for the Pixel; which are to be shared with Samsung’s flagships; and which are open to every other Android phone.

Is Circle to Search ever coming to your Android phone? It’s already there (sort of) but Google decides to unlock it or not…

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Google Assistant’s “Search screen” feature on the left vs “Circle to Search” on the right. Both seem to do the exact same thing.

According to an internal Samsung document, Circle to Search might not be coming to non-Pixel and Samsung phones until October 2024 – perhaps not before the launch of Android 15.

But in case you thought hardware/software limitations are the reason Circle to Search isn’t available on your Android phone, you might want to think twice, because launching the Google Assistant on any Android device comes up with a little button, which says “Search screen”.

And you guessed it, as shown in the screen recordings I’ve made, hitting this button pretty much comes up with identical results as if you were to “Circle to Search”, meaning all that Google is limiting here is the superior user experience of Circle to Search – for millions of Android users worldwide.

This just doesn’t seem right, and I hope no new Android features will be kept prisoners to Google and Samsung’s contractual obligations. Or they might get sued!

Oh, wait… They are not Huawei or Apple.

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