It’s a truism, but like them all it’s of course true. Search has transformed our use of the web, and thereby just about everything in modern life.
But that transformation has been slow in getting to my pocket or my belt-clip. A recent survey by the 10 year-old San Francisco-based research firm Media-Screen finds that, although more than 60 percent of U.S. broadband users now own an internet-enabled mobile device, only five percent of them actually use the mobile internet.
When I’m at my desk I get it completely. Key in a word or two in the search box and I’m quickly presented with a whole list of links to which I can go, all of which have some degree of relevance to what I want. On the right hand side of my biggish screen there are the paid-for results too, which can often be just as relevant as anything amongst the so-called “organic” findings. Oh, and I’m sitting down, of course, and usually have time to scroll through my many options.
Out and about on the streets of New York, though, it’s a different story. With my mobile device in hand, I am on the go with limited time, and I’m VERY goal-oriented, not to say impatient with any expanse of information, not matter how interesting it might have seemed to me in a more leisurely setting. My connection is – for now at least – likely to be slow. Altogether it remains an unsatisfying experience – I wouldn’t for instance, try to find a vendor for a pair of chic boots west of Greenwich Avenue. Not via your cellphone screen, anyway.
So the industry is clearly trying to get a handle on this and improve things. The recent flurry of freshly-announced partnerships is some testimony to this. They include market giants like Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and a growing number of more focused search providers including InfoSpace, Fast Search & Transfer, Medio Systems, and JumpTap – and this upsurge in commitment certainly reflects a degree of excitement among both carriers and content companies.
But there’s a kind of blinkered vision at work, signified by the exclusiveness of the deals. T-Mobile has teamed up with Google, offering “web ‘n’ walk”; Verizon Wireless with Medio Systems, offering a Verizon-branded search service; a U.K.-based mobile multimedia company called simply “3″, with Yahoo! offering a mix of content and mobile applications … and there are many more in the mobile pipeline.
But a business model built on forming an alliance with a single search engine carries its own limitations. The Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo has decided to do something different. It has created a wholly new mobile search ecosystem comprising more than a dozen engines, directories, and content companies. Each brings its own index and expertise- and the whole caboodle delivers subscribers a well-rounded list of relevant results crafted specifically for high relevancy.
The world-penetrating Finnish mobile phone manufacturer, Nokia, is doing its part too. It’s selling its customers on a comprehensive out-of-the-box mobile search experience that delivers vertical search through a variety of search and content partners. What’s more, Nokia’s approach pays close attention to user’s own context, enabling a mobile search approach for every different category and search situation.
In the end, though, I believe success in this field will come down to neatness of delivery – it reduces to an entirely presentational matter. Consider me on the busy corner of Gansevoort Street and West 4th, squinting at my 2 inch screen, and if you’re a mobile search provider you’ll have to give me a specific answer to my need, not just a range of links to choose from.