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Does Microsoft & RIM search deal herald better usability?

It was about six pm last night when I was sat in the reception of Microsoft’s London HQ twiddling on a BlackBerry that I got news of a new search deal between RIM and Microsoft themselves. Spooked as I naturally was, I looked over my shoulder to check whether I was being followed and read on as I had heard rumblings about this earlier in the day.
Written by Adrian Bridgwater, Contributor on

It was about six pm last night when I was sat in the reception of Microsoft’s London HQ twiddling on a BlackBerry that I got news of a new search deal between RIM and Microsoft themselves. Spooked as I naturally was, I looked over my shoulder to check whether I was being followed and read on as I had heard rumblings about this earlier in the day.

Although the news speaks for itself and is arguably a step forward for handheld search addicts everywhere, I am hoping that it really does represent better ease of use from a user perspective. When you get these big deals between two big companies there’s always a danger of so much back slapping that we don’t hear what’s been done down at the base level – where the data lies.

If you read past the, “Great to be working together – committed to extending our services – powerful leading search engine – extending choice…” – kind of stuff then I think the crux of the matter could be the below news.

Accorrding to RIM, “Microsoft Live Search will leverage the wireless data optimisation capabilities of the BlackBerry solution to deliver results quickly while users are on the go. BlackBerry smartphone customers will also be able to use Live Search to perform contextual, location-sensitive searches or look for nearby points of interest from inside BlackBerry Maps.”

Sounds good – but I do hope the architectural planning guys have taken real users into consideration. It’s one thing to make it happen, but it’s quite another to make it attractive. When you hear mobile application development vendors talk, they often concentrate on telling you how they’ve managed to get around all the limitations of a mobile device and still build an application that rocks.

“We know we had limited battery life, smaller form factor, restricted screen size, occasionally disconnected coverage etc. but we took all these into account and our development team has still built an application that users will want to use time and time again,” said mobile Mr Mobile Application Development Platform Evangelist.

But we know that’s not always true, so last night’s announcement is the kind of news that you hope may make things a little better. Web usage on a BlackBerry can be pretty good – I managed to find out that Bristol City had been beaten by Hull in the Championship play offs 40 miles from the nearest human being in the middle of the Pennsylvania mountains this summer. But with all those logos on the BBC news site, it can be painful.

I hope they’ve been down at ground level to look at real usage scenarios to really make our experiences better. As I’ve said elsewhere, you can use technology to try and create experiences, but it doesn’t always work. I’ll be attending RIM’s first ever BlackBerry Developer Conference next month, so I’ll be sure to ask some tough questions for you.

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