Let's look at the numbers. There are 170 million mobile phones in use in North America, 240 million in Europe and the research firm Strategy Analytics predicts 1.7 billion worldwide wireless subscribers by 2006. Those numbers dwarf the expected number of computer-based Internet users in the same period. Search will be available in your hand, 24/7, cheaply and available to much more of the world's population.
The potential users are there and growing. Now the technology looks to be able to reach them. Smart phones and wireless handhelds, which have the required two-way data synchronization, have increased in sales 45 percent between quarter two 2003 and quarter two 2004, according to research firm Canalys.
For example, my current phone is a Treo 600 Smartphone, which uses the Palm mobile operating system. It's fast, always connected wirelessly and comes with Google Search capability prominently displayed. Searching on Google returns the first five results almost as fast as using my office T1 line.
I use it constantly to "find my way" within a city, and can say without a doubt that "Starbucks + the city I'm in" quickly gets me the address to a caffeine fix with haste. Recently, Google released a beta version of their short messaging service (SMS) capability. Using my phone's text messaging capability, I can type the Google short code, 46645, plus "Pizza" and a zip code and get multiple listings sent back in a few seconds. I like the regular Google way through the browser much better at this point than SMS.
But the mobile search method (and there will be many) is only part of the story. It's the possibilities of what a search marketer can do with it that is amazing. Search has always been about presenting your message at the point someone wants it. Mobile search matches that, but also adds the capability to present it to consumers while they're on the way to it, or perhaps even standing nearby.
Think of it...searching for an "Italian Restaurant" as you near a town's exit ramp off of the interstate. Or searching for a comparison price on a leather coat by entering the coat plus the name of a shopping mall, while you're standing in the mall somewhere. This is taking search to the masses. This is localized search to the Nth degree.
Where is mobile search going? Well, to see the future you only need to take a look at the navigation systems running in many new cars. Using a Global Positioning System (GPS), it knows where you are at any moment. Using an in-vehicle database, you can simply say "French Restaurants" or even 'I'm hungry!" and are presented with icons representing specific food types on your navigation screen. You can press one of these icons and get exact directions to the restaurant -- even be guided there by voice prompts. Imagine accessing Google from your cell phone, saying "French Restaurant" and getting a list to select from located near you, plus voice guidance to your choice.
Organizations like the Mobile Marketing Associations are working to develop privacy standards, because not all will like the idea of their movements being tracked when combined with mobile searches. But just as the acceptance of online credit cards has grown each year, the possibility of carrying the world's phone and address book - let alone access to the world's knowledge in your pocket or purse - will be too good to pass up. People will want it and use it, ignoring any privacy concerns.
If you use search to present your product or service, you should start looking at mobile search. It is going to expand and change the search industry in ways we haven't even contemplated yet.