Google is known for frequently A/B testing new features to small subsets of users. Some are now reporting seeing shortcuts for ‘Recent Searches’, ‘What’s Hot’, and ‘Nearby’ when tapping on the Google Search bar from the homescreen.
Previously, tapping on the search bar would reveal five or so of your previously searched terms. Tapping on the ‘What’s Hot’ shortcut shows top Google searches and clicking on ‘Nearby’ gives the option to search for a close Restaurant, Gas Station, ATM, or Coffee. The latter is similar to the ‘Explore Around You’ feature in Google Maps and the Google Now cards that pop up when you’re in a new area.
The new shortcuts, especially ‘What’s Hot’, drive more engagement to Search, while ‘Nearby’ exposes the points of interest data that Google Maps has. Google has recently also been A/B testing a new full screen app-like Weather experience on mobile search. Those who are seeing the shortcuts all appear to be using the Google Now launcher, though the feature is most likely a test from the main Google app. Additionally, the updates are coming server-side and not due to a new beta version of the Google app.