/>
X
Innovation

Bing & the Microsoft perception gap: some evidence

Do you dislike Bing's results - or do you just think you would?Chatting with ALK recently about the future direction of the excellent CoPilot navigation app for Android and iPhone today (which has updates on the way soon and some significant developments planned for next year), we were discussing different phone platforms and different providers of points of interest, locations and location services, including Yapf, an app for Windows Phone that shows you Google Maps results on a Bing map.

Do you dislike Bing's results - or do you just think you would?

Chatting with ALK recently about the future direction of the excellent CoPilot navigation app for Android and iPhone today (which has updates on the way soon and some significant developments planned for next year), we were discussing different phone platforms and different providers of points of interest, locations and location services, including Yapf, an app for Windows Phone that shows you Google Maps results on a Bing map.

CoPilot uses the Bing POI database as its 'live search' option; something that made more sense when the search engine was called Windows Live, but an association that many users actually missed. For years, they think they've been using CoPilot's own custom Web search results for places that are too new to be in the main POI database. In fact, they've been using the Microsoft results all along. It's only more recently that they've been labelled as Bing though, and with the Bing branding ALK has added more information about the results, including ratings and reviews. But the data, and the data source, is the same.

Also recently, ALK did a survey; around 7,000 CoPilot users responded and one of the common comments was to ask ALK to abandon the Bing service and go back to the 'old CoPilot live search' which users claimed was 'much better'. Maybe expectations have changed, maybe people are looking for different things. Or maybe the same results, from the same data source, with added information, are less popular - just because it says Bing on the box.

To me, that seems to be clear evidence that for all its recent successes, Microsoft still has a perception problem. What I've called the sins of the past - in business behaviour and in product problems - still dog Microsoft's reputation.

Microsoft knows some people judge their products without actually using them. As the head of Windows Phone Joe Belfiore put it at Nokia World this year, "you know when someone has only seen static images of the Metro interface, because they say' the blue tiles look boring' - and then what we're seeing on websites is people say to them 'hang on, have you actually tried it?'".

If you hated Hotmail ten years ago, you probably dislike it now because you disliked it enough not to go back and use it again - even though it's now vastly improved, no longer full of spam and packed with useful features (like only ever showing the most recent newsletter from that shopping site you don't want to cancel but don't need to keep around either). If you switched to a Mac or Linux system because you kept getting BSODs on an old PC, you'll still think Windows is unreliable even though blue screens are now rare and almost always down to hardware failures. And if you're happy with Google, you probably think Bing is a poor search engine because you haven't tried it since it was Windows Live, or you haven't tried it at all - because you're happy with the results you get from Google.

I switched to Bing accidentally, by forgetting to set the default search on a Windows 7 beta test machine; after ten days when I must have been busy enough to be remarkably distracted, I finally noticed that the Google logo wasn't on the page of results and realised I'd been perfectly happy with ten days of search results. Now I leave Bing as the default and use the search icon in the address bar to compare Google results every now and again - because Google's results tend to have a lot more spam sites full of scraped content further up the list. If Google gets better or Bing gets worse, I'll switch back. But I'll try to do it based on the quality of the service, not because of my expectations about the company providing them.

Putting Bing onto Xbox in this week's update is going to expose a lot more people to the search service, and using it as the voice recognition keyword is going to get them to think of it more often - to be fair, Xbox Bing is phonetically far more distinct than Xbox Search, so it's easier for the voice recognition to get right in a noisy environment like your living room on Christmas day. (They'll see the Metro-style interface as well, with animations and social connections and the panoramic interface, which may soften us up for the Windows 8 Start screen.) Perhaps if you already like Microsoft enough to have chosen an Xbox, the association with Bing won't be enough to make you think less of the search results - especially if they're what you're looking for.

Mary Branscombe

Editorial standards