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Circle to Search might finally come to iPhone, but only in Chrome

Published May 17th, 2024 10:25AM EDT
Using Google's Circle to Search AI feature on the Galaxy S24 Ultra.
Image: Samsung

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Google just upgraded the Circle to Search functionality, announcing at I/O 2024 that the feature can now do things like help you with homework on Android devices. Introduced in January as an exclusive feature for the Galaxy S24 and Pixel 8 phones, Circle to Search is now available on plenty of other Android devices.

At I/O, Circle to Search was one of only three AI features Google demoed for Android 15, as it said that it’s building its operating system with AI at the core.

Google made Circle to Search sound like an Android exclusive and an implicit advantage over the iPhone. It’s true that Google never announced plans to launch the feature on the iPhone, but it also never discounted the possibility.

After all, there’s a workaround to use Circle to Search on your iPhone right now. You can use Circle to Search on iPhone via the Google Lens app, but you can’t exactly circle the screen to search for something specific.

That said, it looks like Google will bring a version of Circle to Search to the iPhone via a future update to the Chrome browser for iOS.

That’s according to The Mac Observer, at least. The blog spotted a new “Lens Circle to Search” flag added to Chrome for iOS. If enabled, the feature would bring Circle to Search functionality to the iPhone outside of Google Lens.

The only downside is that accessing Circle to Search via Chrome isn’t as good as the Android experience. On Android, Google has implemented Circle to Search at the system level. You can invoke Circle to Search no matter what you’re doing on the phone, and you’ll search the web for content currently displayed on the screen.

The Circle to Search feature Google might be adding to Chrome for iOS will be limited to content in Chrome, of course. Apple isn’t likely to give Google the same systemwide access that Circle to Search gets on Android.

Apple will likely never allow a feature from another company to work systemwide, even if it chooses Google Gemini as the built-in AI chatbot for iOS 18. Instead, Apple might deliver its own Circle to Search alternative, which could be built on top of the current Visual Look Up functionality. I’m just speculating, however.

I’ll also add that GPT-4o and Gemini’s Project Astra upgrade will make Circle to Search unnecessary. If the AI can see screenshots, videos, or the contents of your screen and search the web for information, you don’t need to circle anything.

Google’s integration of Circle to Search into Chrome for iOS makes sense for another reason. It could increase the adoption of Chrome on iPhone. Personally, I’m looking forward to using Circle to Search on iPhone, but I won’t replace Safari with Chrome anytime soon.

Still, if Google brings Circle to Search to Chrome on iOS, I’m sure many people will try it. It’s a much faster way to search the web using images or parts from an image. That said, Google hasn’t announced anything about Circle to Search on iPhone. It’s unclear when or even if the functionality will come to Chrome for iOS.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.