Ask and Google Will Answer
By Eric Lin, Thu Oct 07 23:00:00 GMT 2004

Like other recent applications, Google is now addressing mobile computing needs while acknowledging that mobile phones are not computers.

Mobile answer services have taken off in the UK and other high-penetration markets, however search engines have been slow to move to the mobile Internet. Early efforts from search sites merely created WAP front ends for their sites, often returning difficult to use or poorly formatted WAP pages for the result. Although answer services charge a premium fee, their interface is simple -- send an SMS question, get an SMS answer -- and that simplicity is what has made them a success.

Recently launched search engine IceRocket made an attempt to simplify mobile access by offering email search. Mimicking the simplicity of answer services, users can email (not SMS) a search query in the subject line and receive a reply back of results, complete with text snippets and hyperlinks. This system is an excellent answer for smartphone users and Blackberry addicts, but still not optimal for most mobile subscribers.

Today Google has launched a new mobile search system allowing US subscribers to search using SMS sent to a short code. The system not only combines the simplicity of SMS with the power of a full search engine, it also takes into account the situations and limitations of the mobile user. The service can be used to look up local businesses, phone numbers, area codes, dictionary definitions, and price comparisons, as well as text snippets from the first two results of a Google web search.

Google SMS is another significant indicator that services which dominate on the desktop finally understand the roles they can play on the mobile Internet. As more services like this set the bar, it won't be enough for companies merely to get on to mobile handsets, they will have to do it well.