Mobile Search Is Off and Running
By Eric Lin, Thu Oct 28 00:00:00 GMT 2004

The launch of Google SMS served as the starting gun in the mobile search race. Now everyone is off and running, but some still need more training.


Since IceRocket is still relatively unknown, and its email search only targets the small population of Blackberry users, it didn't cause much of a stir in the marketplace. However Google's SMS search had the perfect combination of name recognition and widespread availability to strike a chord with others in the marketplace, sending them scrambling to launch a competitor. Many of those to follow Google into the market share its application model as well: send a simple SMS query, get an SMS answer.

Several new entrants are competing with Google SMS in one search space or another. Since each of these services just offers one type of search, each tries to be better or easier than Google. Smarter offers comparison shopping, but allows users to ask for a price based on the model number of the item for quicker, more accurate, in-store comparisons. Two other services are competing against Google's directory searches. UpSnap claims to differentiate itself by returning an SMS with a menu of options from requesting more detail on a result to asking for a call back from the business. Trials reveal that the service does not work like this yet, but it does return accurate directory results. Synfonic offers directory results based on Yahoo! Local to provide more advanced search options, like generic requests (night clubs, pizza, cheap food, etc.) similar to Google's directory application.

Today Yahoo! launched its own mobile search service. Unlike Google and other new entrants, Yahoo! has chosen to launch its search over a website. Users can use mobile.yahoo.com to search the web for text and image results, as well as search Yahoo! Local listings separately. However Yahoo! limits access to the search engine to users with smartphones that have HTML browsers. Yahoo! already offers a simple search interface on its desktop site that presents clean, simple results. The difference between this interface and the mobile one is that the mobile search returns fewer results, helping the page to load faster over slower cellular data connections.

By limiting its mobile search page to HTML browsers, Yahoo! has effectively blocked the majority of mobile users from accessing this service. In addition, by limiting the results returned, Yahoo! may also be alienating the power users which it is targeting with this release. Although Google has offered a WAP version of its site for many years, most users have been disappointed with its performance, especially compared to the desktop. The simple interface and extra features that Yahoo!'s mobile search offers could have posed serious competition to Google's mobile reign, even after the launch of Google SMS. Instead of designing the application to the capabilities of most handsets, Yahoo! instead chose to keep the application the same and only allow in those users with handsets that fit its requirements. Yahoo! missed an opportunity to make a much bigger mobile play. However there still is a chance, since the simple interface and results pages should not be that difficult to recode into XHTML for phones with WAP 2.0 browsers.