Have Gadget, Will Search

The biggest prediction I'll make for 2009 is that it will be the first year where the device you search from will matter almost as much as what your query is. Having mobile scale as a viable search marketing channel will be the biggest driver, but this extends beyond smartphones. Consider how GPS is making in-car telematics mainstream.

As I've been trying out some alternative devices lately, today we'll look at the search experience on the iPod Touch, Amazon's Kindle, and the Chumby.

iPod Touch
It's a different mentality searching from the iPod Touch than from an iPhone. Both devices are similar, except for three key differences: the iPod Touch relies on Wi-Fi rather than the 3G/Wi-Fi combo the iPhone uses; there's no GPS for the Touch, but it can hone in on location via Wi-Fi signals; and the Touch doesn't have a camera.

Searching Google from the Touch delivers a mobile version of search results, where some ads appear above the natural results, but there are no ads to the right. Yahoo and also use the single-column approach. While it can vary from publisher to publisher, the experience is generally a hybrid of the Web and mobile, and as it evolves will only get better as a practical but powerful search driver.



I'm not yet willing to rely on AT&T and switch to the iPhone as a phone, but I love the Touch interface more than my Samsung i760 smartphone. When I want to quickly check email in the morning or look up a few things on the road, I reach for the Touch first, with the Samsung as a backup. As more data comes out, marketers will come to have a better understanding of what Touch users search for.

I'm not ready to give up on books (or bookshelves) quite yet, but after plowing through Philip Roth's "Indignation" on Amazon's Kindle, I'll keep it on me for awhile. It was great traveling on an overnight trip to Boston where I could finish "Indignation" and download another book on the road rather than taking two volumes with me.

The Kindle's experimental options include a Web browser, with bookmarks to Google, Yahoo Finance, and the Yellow Pages. Amazon operates on what it calls the "Whispernet," a free Wi-Fi based connection to Sprint's EVDO data network that has worked well anywhere I've tried to use it.

Trying to search Google on the Kindle requires several extra clicks to enter the term in the field and search. The concept of the first page of results is different here too, as you generally need to hit the "next" button to cycle through a few screens. Google's results come from its PDA-optimized browser, although on the Kindle it's in black and white. I couldn't find any ads running.

The most useful search engine on the Kindle is its NowNow service where you can ask a question and humans respond with the result, sometimes within minutes. I asked it which U.S. president was the first to be inaugurated in January, and I received a page of facts and links about Franklin D. Roosevelt and his 1937 inauguration.

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The Chumby, a Wi-Fi enabled touch-screen device, is an odd duck of a gadget. You can select from a constantly growing list of Web sites, games, and utilities to add, and the Chumby cycles through them every 30 to 60 seconds; if you interact with one, it will stay on longer.

Some selections are meant for viewing, like clocks, while others are designed for interaction, like the addictive game Chumball. Certain selections can be personalized, like Facebook or Twitter, where you can view friends' updates. Most have some interactive component. The Chumby can even play videos such as David Letterman's Top Ten lists, which update daily.

There's no actual search engine on the Chumby. With Yahoo Buzz or Google Trends, you can view recent top movers, but you can't search beyond that. Google News shows top stories, but no other information beyond a brief synopsis. You can preprogram a query for Google Blog Search and Chumby will show the latest results, but that's it. The best search experience I found is with the Twitter Search module, where you can enter a query through the Chumby's on-screen keyboard.

Looking Forward

If mobile devices are considered the third screen (after the TV and computer), the Kindle must rank somewhere around the 11th screen -- and the Chumby might be the 28th. Don't even try to figure out the iPod Touch, which alternates between acting like the first screen when playing videos, the second screen when running applications, and the third screen when accessing the mobile Web. With all of these Web-enabled screens, there are opportunities for searching. The nature of the device, from its usability to where and why people use it, will impact the queries.

Not all screens will be search drivers. I'd be surprised if any agencies started to specialize in CMO -- Chumby marketing optimization -- or KIBRO -- Kindle browser optimization. But since it's easier to build in Web accessibility to a wider array of affordable devices aimed at the mass market, search engines will spill over into the new frontiers -- and when searches from these devices reach any magnitude of scale, marketers will inevitably follow.

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