17 September 2009

Introducing Quick Search Box for Android

One of the new features we're really proud of in the Android 1.6 release is Quick Search Box for Android. This is our new system-wide search framework, which makes it possible for users to quickly and easily find what they're looking for, both on their devices and on the web. It suggests content on your device as you type, like apps, contacts, browser history, and music. It also offers results from the web search suggestions, local business listings, and other info from Google, such as stock quotes, weather, and flight status. All of this is available right from the home screen, by tapping on Quick Search Box (QSB).

What we're most excited about with this new feature is the ability for you, the developers, to leverage the QSB framework to provide quicker and easier access to the content inside your apps. Your apps can provide search suggestions that will surface to users in QSB alongside other search results and suggestions. This makes it possible for users to access your application's content from outside your application—for example, from the home screen.

The code fragments below are related to a new demo app for Android 1.6 called Searchable Dictionary.


The story before now: searching within your app

In previous releases, we already provided a mechanism for you to expose search and search suggestions in your app as described in the docs for SearchManager. This mechanism has not changed and requires the following two things in your AndroidManifest.xml:

1) In your <activity>, an intent filter, and a reference to a searchable.xml file (described below):

<intent-filter>
    <action android:name="android.intent.action.SEARCH" />
    <category android:name="android.intent.category.DEFAULT" />
</intent-filter>
            
<meta-data android:name="android.app.searchable"
       android:resource="@xml/searchable" />

2) A content provider that can provide search suggestions according to the URIs and column formats specified by the Search Suggestions section of the SearchManager docs:

<!-- Provides search suggestions for words and their definitions. -->
<provider android:name="DictionaryProvider"
       android:authorities="dictionary"
       android:syncable="false" />

In the searchable.xml file, you specify a few things about how you want the search system to present search for your app, including the authority of the content provider that provides suggestions for the user as they type. Here's an example of the searchable.xml of an Android app that provides search suggestions within its own activities:

<searchable xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
        android:label="@string/search_label"
        android:searchSuggestAuthority="dictionary"
        android:searchSuggestIntentAction="android.intent.action.VIEW">
</searchable>

Note that the android:searchSuggestAuthority attribute refers to the authority of the content provider we declared in AndroidManifest.xml.

For more details on this, see the Searchability Metadata section of the SearchManager docs.

Including your app in Quick Search Box

In Android 1.6, we added a new attribute to the metadata for searchables: android:includeInGlobalSearch. By specifying this as "true" in your searchable.xml, you allow QSB to pick up your search suggestion content provider and include its suggestions along with the rest (if the user enables your suggestions from the system search settings).

You should also specify a string value for android:searchSettingsDescription, which describes to users what sorts of suggestions your app provides in the system settings for search.

<searchable xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"
       android:label="@string/search_label"
       android:searchSettingsDescription="@string/settings_description"
       android:includeInGlobalSearch="true"
       android:searchSuggestAuthority="dictionary"
       android:searchSuggestIntentAction="android.intent.action.VIEW">
</searchable>

These new attributes are supported only in Android 1.6 and later.

What to expect

The first and most important thing to note is that when a user installs an app with a suggestion provider that participates in QSB, this new app will not be enabled for QSB by default. The user can choose to enable particular suggestion sources from the system settings for search (by going to "Search" > "Searchable items" in settings).

You should consider how to handle this in your app. Perhaps show a notice that instructs the user to visit system settings and enable your app's suggestions.

Once the user enables your searchable item, the app's suggestions will have a chance to show up in QSB, most likely under the "more results" section to begin with. As your app's suggestions are chosen more frequently, they can move up in the list.

Shortcuts

One of our objectives with QSB is to make it faster for users to access the things they access most often. One way we've done this is by 'shortcutting' some of the previously chosen search suggestions, so they will be shown immediately as the user starts typing, instead of waiting to query the content providers. Suggestions from your app may be chosen as shortcuts when the user clicks on them.

For dynamic suggestions that may wish to change their content (or become invalid) in the future, you can provide a 'shortcut id'. This tells QSB to query your suggestion provider for up-to-date content for a suggestion after it has been displayed. For more details on how to manage shortcuts, see the Shortcuts section within the SearchManager docs.


QSB provides a really cool way to make your app's content quicker to access by users. To help you get your app started with it, we've created a demo app which simply provides access to a small dictionary of words in QSB—it's called Searchable Dictionary, and we encourage you to check it out.