Battle lines are being drawn in the mobile search space as handset makers scramble to get partners on board. Last week’s announcement that Nokia will integrate Microsoft’s Windows Live Search for mobile solution into several of its products, including a number of N-Series and S60 phones, means yet another company has joined the Nokia fold. Nokia has so far declined to comment on the deal, but Darcie de Freitas, product manager for Windows Live Search for mobile, told me the agreement is non-exclusive and could grow to include other components of Windows Live Search for mobile such as local search. “The components that would make sense for an OEM are Web search, Instant Answers (Microsoft’s Encarta branded service for mobile users needing quick facts on the go) and local,” said de Freitas. “This is our first step working with a device manufacturer and we took it with Nokia based on their position and their understanding of the value of search.”
But de Freitas hints it won’t be the last tie-up — particularly since Microsoft (unlike Yahoo and Google) is the only search provider that can have it both ways and be both a branded and a white-label offer depending on the nature of the partnership. “Our approach to partnership is very different from a Google or a Yahoo; they are purely direct-2-consumer companies,” said de Freitas. “Microsoft is about software.” What’s more, Microsoft has more flexibility than many of its search rivals. It can co-brand its offer, as it’s now doing with Nokia, or promote its brand, which it is doing as one of nine DoCoMo mobile search partners. Because it’s not in Microsoft’s DNA to seek top billing, it could well gain traction in markets where other branded search providers have so far only raised fears around disintermediation and brand dilution.