Brian Rogers explains the story behind kikin's contextual touch to search tech, and reveals the changes in touchscreens that make your fingers more powerful than ever.
Seen the news? The Vodafone Smart Tab II has just become the first device to market with kikin, a properly innovative contextual search tool, baked in. It offers one-touch searching in a smartly-crafted drop down window, which makes it perfect for looking up maps, news and info without leaving the page you’re on or disrupting your initial goal.
In short, it’s smart. It’s smart enough that we’re intrigued about how it works, what the story behind it is and what lies ahead. To answer those questions, we hunted down kikin’s makers and secured a chat. Brian Rogers is kikin’s head of product and technology, and he’s the man with the inside scoop.
“I went to school and studied computer science, and then for a while I worked at IAC which was part of Ask.com,” Brian says, explaining the road to kikin. “So I’ve got a bit of search background there – I spent a lot of time in the toolbar business. I ended up meeting [co-founder] Carlos Bhola and seeing kikin – and I saw what these guys’ vision was around personalised and contextual search.”
That vision? Smarter searching. “The way that kikin searches is a hybrid solution, where there’s a client piece – something in the actual device – and something that talks to a server where all its search results are coming from. It’s sort of like a toolbar,” Brian explains, “but a toolbar isn’t very interesting or sexy – it’s just how companies try and get more desktop searches out of you.
“I saw in kikin the future of how this type of technology can work to give the user a better experience.”
“We want kikin to give you the answers and information that you’re craving by looking at what you’re looking at.”
kikin’s reason for being, then, is to provide us with searching that overcomes two issues. Firstly, how we start searching on a touchscreen device in the first place, and secondly, how your results can get smarter. “On your phone or tablet,” Brian continues, “searching is really quite difficult – you really only do it if you have to. When it comes to selecting text and copying and pasting, there are multiple steps. Part of what we do is reduce the friction and effort to identify what you want.”
kikin does this by allowing you to hold any word, in any app, and it’ll bring down a box full of related searches. Simple. “At the end of the day we want kikin to give you the answers and information that you’re craving by looking at what you’re looking at. It’s about contextual search – that means that whenever you’re looking at something, you need something extra to find out what you want and what your goal is. With that, we can give you much more accurate information – because we have the context of what the page is about.”
The contest for context
So how smart is kikin? Very: it knows what you’re up to. “For example,” says Brian, “if you’re on National Geographic and you highlight the word ‘jaguar’ we obviously know that you’re talking about the animal, and will give you all sorts of cool information about the big cats.
“If you’re on Motor Trends and you highlight ‘Jag’ we know that that means Jaguar, and we know you mean cars, so we’ll give you everything we know about Jaguar cars.”
“The way that we see this is not just about the browser,” Brian says. “If you’re on a mobile device, they’re much more app-centric than the web, so it doesn’t even matter if it’s your email application, or the browser or a third party news reader app – this kind of functionality should be at the operating system level. It should work in any application.”
It’s that exact thinking that’s taken kikin on its journey from iOS browser to the OS-level Android tool that sits inside the Vodafone Smart Tab II. We asked Brian to shed some light on that transition:
“kikin is all about making your tablet do the work for you.”
“We built an iOS browser to showcase what the technology could do. Quickly, we saw user feedback saying that it was so good that people wanted it to work in other applications. That’s when we realised that the natural order of things was to progress to the operating system, which was when we moved to Android.
“Android’s been very interesting and innovative because it allows us to innovate and modify the operating system itself and add a feature like kikin into the mix. And the result? System-wide functionality in the Smart Tab II
Making touchscreens more powerful
kikin is all about making your tablet do the work for you, and that means making up for some of the minor downsides that touchscreen devices innately have. kikin’s just one answer, but Brian thinks there’s plenty more innovation to come…
“I think that when touchscreens were first introduced, especially with the iPhone, it was cool – it was the ‘future of computing’ and everything quickly migrated there, especially with tablets.
“But,” he says, “there are a few things that are actually harder to do in a touchscreen environment, and that’s why the future of innovation on this platform is making your fingers more powerful, giving the user more power and writing interesting software.
“Software that, instead of making anything a hindrance, allows us to do everything they need to do without the need to head over to a desktop PC.”
kikin is now available for the Vodafone Smart Tab II via a small firmware update. Click here for more information.