Mobile Search - From Innovation to Application
AskMeNow, Baidu, Ask.com, Microsoft and InfoSpace Explore Advanced Search Technology for Mobile Devices
By Ann-Marie Fleming,
As the number of cell phone users continues to grow and devices evolve to suit the mobile lifestyle, the transition from PC Internet based services is rapidly transitioning into the handheld market. IDC's Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker reports that the global mobile phone market realized growth of 26 percent in the first quarter of this year, when compared to the same time period in 2005.
The success that the area of search has enjoyed on the Internet is currently an unrealized opportunity for growth in the mobile arena. This potential has companies such as AskMeNow, Baidu, Ask.com, Microsoft and InfoSpace developing innovative mobile search solutions in hopes of tapping into this anticipated opportunity.
As Tim Connors General Partner with U.S. Venture Partners explains, “The timing is right for mobile search because the mobile phones are ubiquitous, screens are now of sufficient size and resolution, data rates are getting faster, consumers are getting more comfortable with data services, and the rates for data are getting reasonable.”
Brendan Benzing VP of Mobile Search for InfoSpace (NASDAQ: INSP) a mobile content, applications and infrastructure provider states, “The networks are becoming faster minimizing the level of frustration that may have existed 2 or 3 years ago with data services because they were slow. Hardware has improved in terms of input capabilities, text messaging, and bigger keyboards, all of which are contributing to higher adoption rates by consumers with carriers also beginning to push their data services.”
The timing is right for mobile search according to Darryl Cohen, CEO of mobile search provider AskMeNow, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ocean West Holding Corporation (OTCBB: OWHC). “The advent of SMS adoption is creating a class of cellular users more comfortable using their phone for typing in requests than making calls, these early adopters are hungry to access information 24/7, provided it is easy to access, quick in it's response time, and accurate," describes Cohen.
While the long term view of mobile search revolves around an advertising model, the current environment sees this technology as complementing the sale of mobile content as it helps consumers maneuver through the growing list of products available such as ring tones, games, music, wallpaper and video.
Mobile Search for Mobile Content
The success of search on the Internet has created the awareness of opportunities in mobile search,” describes Benzing. “When you start to look at the dynamics and ingredients of mobile search, the opportunity is seen with the number of handsets that are out there and the amount of content that is really beginning to explode on the mobile phone. This is the need for search and it is now becoming very important for consumers. The content on the mobile phone is taking off as cell phones are starting to become a device used for more than voice,” adds Mr. Benzing.
Search is being understood by carriers as a synergistic tool to help navigate through their extended services, while at the same time becoming a useful value added service in creating a user friendly experience for their customers. Carriers are looking for tools that complement the different business models that are available to them through the growing technology and content channels.
According to Connors, “I see search complementing other handheld and mobile applications. So much content that is released today is only useful if I as a consumer can search through it to find specifically what I am looking for when I need it. Companies like 4INFO (a U.S. Ventures portfolio company) who provide a mobile search service are excellent resources for people because unlike other applications (like traditional web search) they give me the specific information I want - a stock price, the weather, a flight time, a ring tone - instead of other links on how to get that information.”
Benzing adds, “The mobile phone is a difficult tool in itself to navigate through the growing content so search opens up the opportunity for users to discover this content and to actually consume it as well.”
Overall, the growing level of content that users have and want access to on their handheld devices has made the task of mobile search a challenging one to say the least. When you combine growing content, with the demand of the mobile user for fast, easy, reliable and relevant information on-the-go, powerful mobile search technology is fast becoming a necessity in order for consumers to maneuver their way to their desired mobile experience.
Innovation in Mobile Search Technology
AskMeNow recently announced a proposed acquisition enabling them to provide the first mobile search technology (IntelliGate) that revolves around natural language query and retrieval, according to the Company. Darryl Cohen explains, “AskMeNow, through the integration of this search technology, has the potential to change the face of mobile search by allowing users to ask questions in their own words and receive fast, accurate and relevant and direct answers from structured databases on the Internet. We believe that by integrating the IntelliGate technology with our proprietary content provision platform, AskMeNow will differentiate itself by providing the mobile industry with the only natural language interface through an automated platform.”
AskMeNow recently caught the attention of Canada's leading wireless carrier Rogers, and have entered into an agreement with the carrier to launch the AskMeNow mobile information platform nationally and make it available to all its BlackBerry users. Roger’s customers will also have the ability to ask virtually any question through the service's proprietary AskMeAnything feature.
Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ; MSFT) has been exploring mobile search in a variety of capacities. Two recently revealed search technologies include ‘Wild Thing’ and ‘Photo2Search’. Wild Thing enables search to be conducted with a minimal amount of characters entered focusing on improving the ease of searching with your mobile devices by reducing the amount of text entry required. This particular technology assumes that random characters will take the place of spaces or asterisks entered by the user. An example is if 'ar s*w m' is entered, the search results will include 'Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies'.
A new mobile search application coming from Microsoft Research Asia called ‘Photo2Search’ takes a different approach by using an image-based search technology. The basic premise behind this is that users with a mobile device with a built in camera can take a photo and submit the photo as a search parameter for obtaining more information on the image. This method of searching would be useful for people unsure of the name of an item or for those who find entering text on a mobile device inconvenient.
InfoSpace’s Find It! local search application, available at Sprint Nextel, is the first LBS-enabled search product on the market; it forms just one component of the Company’s broader mobile search solution.
InfoSpace has developed and is marketing a proprietary comprehensive search solution in an effort to provide mobile users with a richer and more relevant search experience. “We have combined what we think are the most important components into a single search experience with a single search box. We also have a collection of portal applications that include categories such as news, stocks, sports, weather etc and with our technology called ‘Query Intelligence’, which helps us to determine what the intent of the user is, we feel that we can give a much richer experience to the user and help them to get the answer they are looking for as quickly as possible with less clicks and more relevance. In our query intelligence technology we have basically created a knowledge base around areas of information that we think are important to the mobile environment,” states Benzing.
Working to tailor search for the mobile user, Ask.com is looking to create a personalized and mobile device friendly technology. Andy Yang, Product Manager of mobile search from Ask.com, a search-based portal under the IAC/InterActiveCorp umbrella (NASDAQ: IACI) explains, “This category of search is still in its infancy and Ask.com plans to take its own route and focus on providing very specific information to queries. Given the nature of wireless communication and devices, it will be imperative to not just replicate the conventional Web searching experience in order to attract users to mobile search. Since time and display issues are major considerations when searching the Web via a mobile device, Ask.com Smart Search capabilities, which offer users direct answers to their queries, as well as our local and map functionalities, will be great assets for mobile searchers.”
Ask.com is also considering tying wireless search together with personalized search. “Last year, Ask.com launched a personalized search product, called MyStuff, which enables users to store and manage search results. We can see mobile users wanting to access stored MyStuff results, such as weather conditions, when they are using wireless devices. People are building up their own personal search data, and there is a lot of evidence to show that people want to access that data while they are on the move,” states Yang.
Innovation in mobile search is being explored around the world. Chinese search engine Baidu.com (NASDAQ: BIDU) is working with Nokia (NYSE: NOK) on a mobile search application to access online information and to participate in Baidu’s services such as Web Search, Image Search, News Search and Baidu Post Bar, an exchange of information on query-activated message boards. The collaboration represents efforts on both sides to improve the mobile experience for their Chinese users.
An Advertising Future
Mobile search advertising, while still in its early stages, is expected to mimic the success that Internet search advertising has enjoyed. With U.S. search-related advertising expected to reach approximately $9 billion by the year 2007, according to Citigroup, many to believe that mobile search will mirror this growth offering significant opportunity in what many anticipate to become a viable revenue model down the road.
As Benzing explains, “The current model for mobile search is the storefront business on the phone making purchases of ring tones, music, games, wallpaper and applications available for the user. However I anticipate that many companies within the United States and Europe will begin to do some trials around the advertising model in search towards the end of this year. The challenge is to get consumer adoption to reach a level of activity that would attract advertisers.”
Ann-Marie Fleming completed her MBA in the United States, where she attended Webster University. She also holds an Honors B.A from the University of Toronto. She has over sixteen years of experience within the financial industry to include retail banking and brokerage, investment banking, and mortgage brokerage within the United States and Canada, with a firm background in corporate research.
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