Google Focuses On Mobile Internet

Google map on mobile phoneHaving conquered desktop search, Google increasingly appears to be extending its dominion to the mobile Internet.

With a 62% share of mobile Web searches, Google's market share on cell phones is roughly on par with its commanding lead in PC-based queries. Helping foster that connection, Google recently redesigned its mobile site to more closely resemble the desktop version.

Further, Google is also leading in SMS-text searches, with a 40% share compared to Yahoo's 27%, according to Nielsen Mobile.

That's noteworthy because more U.S. mobile data users currently perform searches via SMS than the mobile Internet, 13.1 million to 11.4 million. "While Yahoo got into mobile quickly and broadly and continues to lead as a brand in the mobile Internet, Google is positioning itself well as the leader in mobile search, through all forms including SMS, 411 and WAP (wireless application protocol)," said Nic Covey, director of insights for Nielsen Mobile.

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So, is the mobile search war already over? Not necessarily, says Greg Sterling, who leads the local mobile practice for Opus Research, in a new report. While mobile search may not be a wide-open field, Google's success depends in part on whether search will be as important on mobile devices as on the desktop.

He points out that search is fundamentally more cumbersome in mobile because it's not as easy to navigate back and forth between search results and WAP sites as on the wired Internet.

Meanwhile, the growing number of mobile applications and widgets make it easier than ever for cell phone users to find information through browser-like interfaces than search boxes. Apple's App Store opening Thursday with 500 applications for the iPhone is sure to fuel that trend.

"There's no search required to get the most-desired content," wrote Sterling. "Search potentially becomes a secondary tool for finding information not provided by the chosen widgets." Of course, Google has its own set of mobile applications it plans to help spread through phones due out this year using its Android mobile operating system.

Sterling also suggests bookmarks, or short lists of favorite sites, could assume renewed importance on the mobile Web, reducing the need for search.

While concluding search will still have a significant role to play on the handset, his report argues that the wide range of devices and user experiences "creates potential openings for companies other than Google to rise in mobile and potentially gain mindshare and market share."

One mobile search category where Google hasn't made inroads is in 411 services. Its Google-411 offering has only 4% of the market, well behind standard 411 (66%) and 1-800-Free-411 (23%).

"411 is an established market and also a market that skews to older users, making it harder for Google to make inroads there, even with a compelling free service," said Nielsen Mobile's Covey. But he added that it may just be a matter of time before Google's free 411 service, launched in April 2007, gains ground.

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