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Google’s New Phone Comparison Service Could Be a Threat

November 7, 2017, 12:14 PM UTC

Google is reportedly testing a new feature that lets people compare the specifications of different smartphones within Google Search’s results page.

As first spotted by Android Police on the weekend, some Google users see detailed comparisons when they search for two devices with a “vs” in the middle, such as “Google Pixel 2 vs Apple iPhone X.”

The tool provides a side-by-side comparison of specifications such as price, color options, screen size and pixel density, and battery life.

Fortune was unable to reproduce the results, indicating that the functionality is being tested with select users, but The Next Web had more luck, noting that it only seems to work for smartphones at the moment.

There are two ways to look at this. One is that Google (GOOGL) is making Search more useful for its users, adding functionality that would also make sense in its Assistant service—ask a question, and get an informative response, rather than a list of other services where the answer might be found.

However, the flipside is that, if it rolls this tool out widely, Google may be destroying much of the business of specialist websites—like Phone Arena and Product Chart—that offer such product comparisons. Why click through to them if you can just get the answers you need at the top of the search results page?

Google’s “direct answers” can even have a real impact on the sites that feed them. Wikipedia, for example, experienced a drop in the numbers of people clicking through to articles from which snippets were displayed at the top of Google’s search results. And, as detailed in a story on The Outline earlier this year, Google’s incorporation and regurgitation of a celebrity information website’s data caused the smaller firm to have to lay off half its staff.

What Google does really matters, because the company has a 91% share of the global search market. So, while a phone comparison service such as this one might make life ever so slightly easier for Google’s users, it may not be so great for the wider ecosystem of the web.