Google serves up knowledge bytes on iPhone, Android, WebOS

If you've got a short question burning a hole in your brain and an Android, WebOS, or Android phone in your hand, a new Google feature for mobile phones may help.

Google Mobile answers
After a couple of attempts, we reproduced Google's mobile answers feature. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

When is Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday? What is the currency used in Kiribati? If you've got a short question burning a hole in your brain--and an Android, WebOS, or Android phone in your hand--Google may be able to help.

On Thursday, the search giant opened its ability to surface short answers to definitive search queries to select mobile platforms. Search in English for a well-documented query, like a country capital or president, famous composer, or movie release date, and you should see an answer--and its Web sources--surface near the top of the search results page.

Not every query will net a result, and not all results (like movie release dates) are specific. For instance, asking for Mongolia's average temperature was apparently too much for Google's source-comber, and it took three tries to get the right sentence construction for surfacing Dr. King's date of birth as a top response.

Google appears to sometimes be very specific about your phraseology. We had better overall luck with formal inputs like "birth date of so-and-so" and "capital of this-and-that" than with possessive forms like "whatshisface's birthday," though that wasn't always the case and we suspect much of Google's accuracy has to do with the primary Web sources at hand.

Short answers certainly aren't in supply for every query, but if you're tying to settle a debate or jog your memory, it might be worth a shot. At the very least, you'll be able to satisfy your interest in how the I-Kiribati pay for groceries.

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