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Google's 10 Best Mobile Apps

Ten apps you should be using--or, at the very least, learning from.
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Mobile searches continue to increase dramatically; in the fourth quarter of 2012 nearly 20 percent of organic search and direct visits came from mobile devices. Many predict mobile will become the primary way people access Google services within the next year or so.

Does that spell trouble for Google revenues? Probably not.

"Google has managed to transform itself into a 'mobile first' company," says Larry Kim, the founder and CTO of WordStream, a PPC technology and search engine marketing software company that just published research on how Google makes money from mobile.

"That's why Google is totally restructuring the way AdWords, its pay-per-click advertising platform, works," Larry says. "Google wants more businesses advertising on mobile so it's making mobile PPC radically simpler... and in the process developing a number of killer mobile apps."

Here's Larry with his look at 10 notable apps:

1. Google Maps

Google's super star app needs no introduction. Google Maps is the leader in the mobile map and GPS space. With quick and reliable directions, Google Maps get users where they need to go, whether traveling by car, public transport, or doggin' it on foot.

On top of their initial map success Google Maps also offers indoor maps (think museums, airports), 3D maps, and a street view feature. Google Maps also has a built-in search option for finding nearby local businesses in your moments of need.

2. Google Now

Google Now is a recent addition to the Google apps team, giving users the latest news and updates for what matters most to them as individuals. It's done through a card selection system where users mark "cards" (basically categories) that they deem important.

Sports junkies can get immediate game updates about their favorite teams, while music fans can get the latest news about concerts coming to their area. Google Now can also track your commute route and tell you the next train you need to catch or which roads to beat the traffic.

3. Google+ Local

Google+ Local lets users locate nearby eateries, shops, and entertainment venues highly rated using the Zagat system.

Some might say it encourages a complete lack of planning that's become endemic of modern society. Others might say it bolsters spontaneity! Take your pick.

One unique aspect of Google+ Local that sets it apart from other what's-near-me-right-now apps is the ability to see nearby food joints that are recommended by your friends in your Google+ Circles. (This would be more exciting if more people were using Google+; at the moment you may be hard pressed to find any pals reviewing restaurants on Google's social media platform.)

4. Google Play Books

Google Play Books is Google's version of Kindle. Google Play Books lets users read their ebooks on the go with selections like New York Times bestsellers as well as plenty of free classics like Pride and Prejudice.

Google Play Books has some nice features, like a built-in dictionary and the ability to sync your bookmarks across devices so that you can continue reading on your phone where you left off on your tablet.

Ultimately though, Google Play Books lacks the shiny bells of Kindle. It feels like an app Google felt obligated to make... but didn't bother spending too much time on.

5. Google Wallet

Google Wallet brings shopping into the future, letting users store credit cards, debit cards, loyalty cards, and gift cards on their phone to be used for online and in-store purchases. Card info is stored on secure Google cloud servers, effectively eliminating the bursting wallet of ages past. Making a purchase is as simple as tapping your phone to an NFC terminal at checkout.

While Google Wallet is a really neat idea, a lack of widespread adoption (of both the Google Wallet app and NFC terminals) has denied this revolutionary payment option the "credit" it deserves.

6. Google Voice

Google Voice is a welcome upgrade to the classic voicemail that comes standard for most mobile users. Google Voice lets users set up their own Google Voice number which can be used to make cheap international calls, customize voicemail messages, send free text messages, and read voicemail transcripts (this one is especially helpful.)

There are more features too, like call recording and call forwarding, which cost extra.

7. Google Search App

The Google Search app gives users the same convenience for mobile search as with desktop search. The Google Search app also contains bonus features like personalized results based on present location, voice capable search options, and the ability to search the Web or phone/tablet contents.

8. Google Shopper

Google Shopper is a price comparison app that's been tricked out with some unique features; the Google Shopper app can recognize products by cover art, barcode, voice, and text search.

Users can compare prices between online vendors vs. brick and mortar locations, read reviews, and more.

9. Google Goggles

Google Goggles is an image-recognition app in which users can snap a photo of a physical object, and Google responds by generating information about what's photographed.

Google Goggle is a pretty impressive piece of appsmanship; right now Google Goggles can respond to anything 2D and can do things like provide historical information about landmarks, translate a foreign menu, and recognize artwork.

10. Google Chrome

Google Chrome is a mobile Internet browser that translates some of the application's most popular features, like multiple tabs and incognito mode, from desktop browsing to mobile browsing. Users also have the option of syncing bookmarks across Chrome browsers, continuing to streamline mobile and desktop while avoiding hiccups.

What's your favorite app on this list? Any thoughts on what you'd like to see Google do next? Let us know in the comments!

(For more apps and analysis, check out WordStream's How Google Makes Money from Mobile infographic.)

Last updated: Mar 6, 2013

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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