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Mobile Search Switch Highlights Wider War

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The shifting alliances among mobile players make "Survivor" look like a picnic. T-Mobile USA's switch from Yahoo to Google as the default search provider underscores the broader battle between Google and Apple to dominate the mobile landscape. Given T-Mobile's enthusiastic embrace of the Android platform from the G1 to the myTouch 3G to Google's own Nexus One smartphone, the carrier dumping Yahoo for Google for search isn't so surprising.

It also comes on the heels of news that AT&T would make Yahoo the default search option for the Android-powered Motorola Backflip rather than Google, which has been the search default for most, if not, all Android phones to date. AT&T, of course, has a long-standing partnership with Yahoo across traditional broadband and mobile service.

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AT&T, of course, is also the wireless partner of Apple for the iPhone, which offers Google as the built-in search provider. But that alliance may not last much longer in light of the growing rivalry between Apple and Google in the mobile realm. BusinessWeek earlier this year reported Apple was in talks with Microsoft to replace Google as the default search engine on the iPhone with Bing.

That move would clearly be a coup for Microsoft, which already has an agreement with Verizon Wireless to be the No. 1 search option on its phones. As it stands now, T-Mobile and Sprint (and the iPhone) default to Google, Verizon to Bing and AT&T to Yahoo. Anyway you slice it, Yahoo appears to be the loser in this game of mobile search musical chairs.

Google is now allied with two of the four major carriers for search, and even if it loses its prime position on the iPhone, that slot looks likely to go to Bing not Yahoo. Yes, Yahoo would benefit indirectly through its search partnership with Microsoft, but the two still compete more broadly for audience and engagement.

Despite Yahoo being installed on the Backflip, Android appears to be helping Google strengthen its grip on the mobile search market, where it already accounts for about two-thirds of queries. Becoming the default search engine on T-Mobile phones, including BlackBerry devices, will only help enhance Google's dominant position.

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