Phlo for iPhone runs searches on multiple sites quickly

Simple tool hiding huge customisation potential

You might remember Cynapse for tinkering with local search with apps like Localscope — a great evolution since the original review moving to an innovative subscription model this year. The developer continues to iterate its idea to make search on mobile more usable with the big update of Phlo, now available on iOS.

If you want to streamline the way people search the internet on their phones, there are several starting points possible. With Localscope the aim was to show you the stuff relevant based on your location. With Phlo it goes further.

Do you need to type less? Would you need the help of assistants like Siri? What type of results are you interested in? Why would you want to challenge Google? When you launch Phlo the cursor and the keyboard are ready for you to type. That's already one step less than using Safari or your web browser of choice, as it would require one tap on the search box. Ask you start spelling a word, the app pulls the suggestions from Google — nothing new here — plus your recent queries from you search history. The default settings include Bing suggestions too. Tap on search and you get your results on the web browser view without much more complication.

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After some test searches you begin to realise where this is going. As Google tries to make richer the result views on mobile, there is going to be information you are not interested that doesn't take that much room. A Google search on Safari gives me the results based on my preferences from Google UK and possibly a lot of information from cookies that I'm not aware of. Phlo runs a clean search on Google.com, which looks rather plain without maps, news and other paraphernalia that I get recommended.

And of course you may want to see the Google results from your country, and that's fine. The real Phlo feature is to search across multiple websites without much effort. The app comes pre-loaded with a bunch of usual suspects such as Bing, YouTube, Twitter or Wikipedia. If you want to watch the trailer for Iron Man 3, you could go to IMBD to later move to YouTube, probably not Vimeo. To switch search engines or websites, simply tap on the tab on the top right corner that will have the favicon of the site you're using. A new pane with a list view will slide from the right, in what is pretty much the only interface for this app.

Customising your search

If you are interested in this kind of tweaking you are going to go down to the nitty gritty. When you enter the settings you realise that all the services supported on Phlo are actually customisable. That Amazon search that comes as default can be easily adapted to the UK version, which is the one I'm interested in. From this settings menu you can also delete the services that you're not going to use — like Reddit, which seems a bit broken with the URL it comes with.

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I can see a lot of useful applications for this that are not immediately obvious; I'm inspired by the services Cynapse decided to include with the app. Someone after particular vintage items can check eBay, Etsy and classifieds-type sites like Craiglist and Gumtree quite easily. I bet you can do something with flight tickets too. I have tried to create some customs with forums and sites I use with no luck, but when it works, I realise how Phlo incredibly useful. A simple task like searching Flickr pictures under a creative commons license is easy to set up and improves over the taps and clicks navigating to that particular menu. I'm sure you have other parts of your day that require search that can be polished with a bit of Phlo. And by the way, the sharing sheet includes WhatsApp sharing scheme I talked about last week and Instapaper with a custom icon and everything. Very nice touch.

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The original desktop version for the Mac is another beast I haven't had the time to check out yet. With the release of Phlo for iPhone now they can both talk to each other using their own sync service that keeps your search history and preferred sites on both platforms.