Bing: Built For Mobile?

Microsoft is often referred to in the tech industry as "the ultimate platform player," because its considerable fortune has been earned by dominating platforms, most notably the Windows platform that most of the world's PCs use. Lately it has been adding platforms, notably Xbox, which has morphed from a games platform to an interactive device capable of serving all varieties of content, including streaming videos and access to social networking sites and services, and it continues to develop its Windows Mobile platform, whose latest iteration is version 6.5.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bing will quickly be integrated into each platform to provide search services, and each version will be optimized to leverage the strengths of each. For example, its multimedia capabilities (including its innovative video preview via rollover) will be a part of the Bing experience on Xbox, whereas location-based search services will form a larger part of this experience on mobile devices.



More important, it is clear that Bing's "less is more" philosophy toward the presentation of search results is a perfect match for the mobile platform, given that people on the go are more likely to be in a pragmatic state of mind in which they seek instantaneous results to real-world questions than are desktop-bound searchers. While it's true that mobile searchers often enter "research mode" (perhaps seeking an answer to a question that pops up in conversation with another), both the time constraints of busy travelers and the highly limited form factor of mobile device screens work against the kind of multipage results screens we take for granted on desktop displays, where screen real estate is practically unlimited. As a general rule, mobile searchers want results -- just one or two -- that are spot-on relevant, being highly intolerant to what Microsoft calls "search overload."

Of course, the battle for mobile penetration on the part of the search engines has only just begun. All of the "big three" have aggressive initiatives in place to establish their brands as the default provider on carriers' devices, and each provides mobile-optimized versions of their desktop UIs tailored for the small screen. Any innovation pioneered by one of them will likely be quickly cloned by a competitor. Additionally, we are only at the beginning of what promises to be a rapid-fire period of innovation in the mobile device market that will shake up the way that people use these things. Some of these advances will be in hardware (Apple's latest version of the iPhone includes voice activation features with obvious voice-to-search potential), with many driven by third-party software developers whose services will hook into search providers via an API.

Microsoft is well-positioned to provide a multitude of services for tomorrow's increasingly mobile computing environment, and it should be noted that many of its recent 2008 acquisitions (including Powerset, Fast Search & Transfer, Farecast, and Danger) all provide products and services relevant to the problem of executing search across multiple platforms in a range of contexts. Additionally, Microsoft has plenty of cash available to provide incentives to mobile carriers to place Bing as the default search service on their devices, plus preexisting partnerships with 50 smart phone vendors that have landed its OS on the smart phones of some 160 mobile carriers worldwide.

Does all this make Microsoft the inevitable winner in the mobile search wars? Not at all. But it's hardly a company to be counted out, especially in light of the fact that the mobile search revolution is in its earliest stages, with many exciting developments just around the bend.

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