What If Mobile Search Doesn't Use Text Input? - InformationWeek

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Commentary
1/10/2008
05:08 PM
Stephen Wellman
Stephen Wellman
Commentary
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What If Mobile Search Doesn't Use Text Input?

Everyone knows that Google is prepared to conquer the mobile Web. Prompting all these initiatives is Google's drive to dominate the mobile search and ad markets. I have one issue with Google's strategy: It assumes that mobile search will operate like desktop search, using text input. What happens if mobile search doesn't work the same way as search on the desktop?

Everyone knows that Google is prepared to conquer the mobile Web. Prompting all these initiatives is Google's drive to dominate the mobile search and ad markets. I have one issue with Google's strategy: It assumes that mobile search will operate like desktop search, using text input. What happens if mobile search doesn't work the same way as search on the desktop?The answer is simple: If mobile search takes a different path, Google is going to need to rethink its strategy.

Despite the apparent innovation with Android and its other efforts (like its push for open network access), Google's core mobile offerings -- text-based search with a mobile version of AdWords -- are just a replica of its desktop products. What is so innovative about this?

Google seems to think that mobile search will operate similarly to desktop search. But the fact is, mobile search is already quite different than desktop search. And, frankly, mobile search isn't easy to use and it doesn't work that well.

In order for the mobile search market to grow, it needs to work. And for that to happen, mobile search needs to be easier to use. I think mobile search needs two things it currently lacks. The first is location and GPS. Mobile searchers need to find items and services fast, and they need those items to be close to them. They don't need 20,000 results, they need two or three, and those two or three results need to be hyper-relevant and geographically close. While Google's mobile search does cut back the number of results of a typical desktop search, it still offers way too many results and those results aren't sufficiently relevant or proximate.

Mobile search also needs an alternative to text. Sure, text input is great on the desktop, but it's cumbersome on mobile devices, even smartphones with qwerty keyboards. Don't believe me? Try typing out those 1,500 word business memos on your BlackBerry. You can do it -- trust me, I have written some long e-mails on smartphones before -- but if you give me the choice, I will always use a notebook or desktop keyboard before a qwerty keyboard to type longer messages. Why is mobile search any different? If you're good at using Google, you frequently type longer, compound queries. But that's often not feasible on mobile phones.

I'm not sure what the alternative to text input will be, but I think Nokia's Point&Find application could offer a glimpse of nontext mobile search input. Why not use images from camera phones to power mobile searches? Image processing combined with GPS could offer a simple point-and-click search mechanism that's far easier to use than existing mobile search systems -- and more useful, too. But such a different search system might not monetize the same way as Google's desktop search. This is a reason for Google not to pursue this approach. But it's definitely a good reason for Google's rivals, such as Nokia, Yahoo, and Microsoft, to look at it.

What do you think? Will mobile search evolve away from text input?

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