Another day, another app update. But this particular Google app update for Apple and Android devices clarifies its growing effort to guess your travel intent and deliver relevant results.
New functionality for the Google Maps app for Apple devices shows your flight and hotel reservations, as pulled from your Gmail account.
Results are displayed similarly to how Google Search returns results from Gmail, Google Calendar, etc. For instance, a reservation for an upcoming flight between Dallas and Hong Kong would pop up on your Google Maps app during a search for directions to a Dallas airport.
This update was previously added to Android devices in October. It's presently available only in English and in the US. (Instructions are here.)
Travel intent, predicted
The "travel intent" trick works if you've signed in to the Google Maps app with your Google account, if you used your Gmail account to receive confirmation of your reservation, and if your trip is imminent.
One significance of this is that it is further evidence that Google has a broader approach to travel now: The search giant aims to suss out the intent of the user behind each topic he or she searches on. So, the topic of Heathrow Airport brings up relevant information Google has collected on the user relevant to "travel".
To say this another way, predicting your travel intent is one of many queries in which Google "maps" words to a "topic," which in turn tells the search giant which category of content it ought to return, using some algorithm to analyze frequency of query, search chains, depth of interaction, plus (presumably) the broader context of how often users in a particular demographic are likely to query a similar type of content.
It's not just what you search but how you search that Google uses to compute what results would be most relevant to "push" to you. It pinpoints a "topic" of interest based on text but also search behavior and then promotes information from that "topic" during future searches on the assumption that it is of ongoing interest to you.
Organizing information by "topic" is a workaround for "predictive" guessing or pure "semantic search." It requires less computing power.
Topic-based searching is more obvious on Android devices because the Google Now functionality reveals "topic cards". Experiment with this by running travel themed searches on your Android device, then wait a day or two to see a travel-themed Google Now Topic pop up.
For more on how Google is using "cards" to present information, see this piece from SearchEngineLand: "Google Adds “Now” Content, Features To iOS Maps Apps"
For more on Google's plans, see this earlier Tnooz analysis piece: "Introducing the largest travel metasearch engine in the world" by Alex Kremer.
See also: Google Now pushes itinerary and travel notifications
Since July, Google Maps has been showing flight times and fares as an alternative for longer distance driving directions. Since last December, you've been able to book a flight through Google Maps.