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Microsoft Acquires Mobile Search Provider

MotionBridge technology, which is sold to carriers, helps find and retrieve data on a mobile phone by reducing the amount of information users have to input through keypads.

Microsoft on Monday announced that it has acquired MotionBridge S.A., a Paris-based provider of search technology geared specifically for mobile devices, which consumers have yet to embrace for accessing data services. Financial details were not disclosed.

Microsoft announced the acquisition at the 3GSM World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. MotionBridge technology, which is sold to carriers, looks to solve the tedious process of finding and retrieving data on a mobile phone by reducing the amount of information users have to input through keypads. The company's software also delivers content formatted to the specific device, whether it's a phone or handheld computer, such as a personal digital assistant.

"They've done a great job optimizing search on a device," Brooke Richardson, group product manager for Microsoft MSN, said.

Besides mobile-focused search, MotionBridge also brings customers to Microsoft, including Orange and O2 Ltd. in the United Kingdom and Sprint Nextel, based in Reston, Va.

Microsoft also hopes the acquisition will help it expand its Windows Live initiative beyond the PC to any device attached to the Web. Windows Live is the company's strategy of eventually making all its software available as a Web service.

"Long term, Windows Live services have to reach beyond the PC," Richardson said. "They have to move across devices. This (acquisition) just kind of kicks things into high gear."

In the short term, MotionBridge technology would be combined with Microsoft's current tools for local and Web search on mobile devices, the company said.

Peter Pawlak, analyst for Directions on Microsoft, said the company has provided development tools for building Web sites that are mobile phone friendly for quite awhile. The effort, however, hasn't gone well because the number of phones with a Microsoft browser remains low, and because of consumer resistance to using a cellular phone for search.

"It's really been kind of difficult," Pawlak said.

Yahoo Inc. and Google Inc., major rivals of Microsoft's MSN portal, also offer search services via a cellular phone's Web browser, and despite consumer resistance, local search is still considered one of the most promising mobile services.

"They're still hoping to find that magic application," Pawlak said.

Among the services being tested is comparison-shopping that lets consumers check the price of a product on a store shelf to see if it's reasonable.

Nevertheless, carriers face a hurdle in convincing consumers. Because of the difficulty of accessing data on a phone, few people are willing to pay any additional charge for the service. Only 7 percent of consumers surveyed by JupiterResearch said they would be willing to pay for local search on a mobile phone.

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