Search incumbents king in mobile, for now

Traditional players need to work at tweaking their search offerings for mobile devices, or risk ceding market to newer providers, says industry observer.

Existing search leaders are currently "obvious favorites" in the mobile search race, but the Googles and Yahoos must not rest on their laurels or newer search providers focused on the mobile environment will "make inroads into the market", an analyst has pointed out.

Mark Blowers, principal analyst at Ovum, said in an e-mail interview search engine incumbents need to take into consideration mobile users' needs as mobile search is "vastly different" from PC-based Internet search.

Instead of listing links, mobile search should be focused on returning only a handful of results with a high probability of accuracy, he noted.

"The way somebody interacts with a [mobile phone] is vastly different to that of the personal computer," Blowers explained. "Mobile search not only needs to provide simple, user-friendly results, but also take into account the immediacy of the requirement, as well as provide a higher degree of search-related relevance and accuracy."

In October, Ovum reported that there is at present "little joy" in mobile search. Most mobile search users, it said, are left disappointed by poor interface and inaccurate results.

Usability, noted Blowers, is a real issue. "Apple iPhone users will on average perform 50 times more Internet searches than users of other Web-enabled mobile phones," he said, adding that there are "clearly lessons to be learnt from Apple on usability".

Mobile search providers, Blowers added, can provide a more compelling experience by tapping a handheld's unique capabilities, such as location-based technology. "Unlike computers and laptops, many mobile phones are GPS (global positioning system)-enabled thus opening up the potential for location-based mobile search and directory services." Apple's iPhone, for instance, is a good example of a platform attracting location-based search applications, he noted.

Voice-activated mobile search is also emerging, said Blowers. "This is not expected to replace the keypad or touch screen, but will give mobile search providers a chance to enrich their offering by presenting their users with an alternate mode of access."

Facilitating marketing conversations
One mobile search specialist is Getfugu, which is based in Los Angeles, Calif. Co-founder Richard Jenkins told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the application is designed to "work on every phone with a camera and microphone", and currently compatible with nearly 3.3 billion phones worldwide. The search application allows users to search for brands by capturing an image of logo with the phone's camera function, or via voice activation.

"Getfugu is committed to helping develop a new standard for mobile search and will do everything we can to help facilitate that," Jenkins said, adding that the company is now preparing a software development kit for mobile developers.

According to Jenkins, Getfugu believes the future of mobile search is the facilitating of conversations between consumers and advertisers. "Our job as search providers is to provide the tools to help the advertiser deliver exactly what the consumer is looking," he said.

Traditional search providers
Web search players ZDNet Asia contacted are also evolving to cater to the needs of mobile search users.

Matthias Kunze, managing director of Yahoo's mobile division in the Asia-Pacific, said in an e-mail that the company recently included voice search which works on more than 80 devices in eight countries, and also integrated Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia into its search results.

Yahoo, which has a tradition of partnering mobile carriers to integrate Yahoo search services into their platform, further localizes and tweaks search results by harnessing location data.

Over at Microsoft, the company has made available a Bing mobile app that is downloadable for Windows Mobile, Research In Motion's Blackberry, Brew (Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless) and Sidekick devices, said a spokesperson in an e-mail. The Bing app includes voice search function and saves users' search for easy retrieval.

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