Microsoft today released the free Bing for Mobile Android App, offering search, a new “image of the day” on the homepage, integrated voice search, instant answers, mapping and more. I’d love to share my thoughts on the new Bing software, but the fact is: I can’t. Like Skype on Android in the U.S., Microsoft’s Bing for Mobile Android App is only available for Android devices on the Verizon Wireless network. Without an iPhone to offer customers, Verizon is cleverly working exclusive software deals with developers to gain an advantage over rival AT&T.
I reached out to Microsoft to verify the exclusivity and sure enough, it’s true, although I was told via email that “there are plans to expand the app to devices with other U.S. mobile operators later this year.” So if you have one those hot new Samsung Galaxy S class phones, for example — Samsung today said it’s shipped a million Galaxy S handsets in the U.S. — you’re out of luck for now. Bing will be supported on Verizon’s version of the Galaxy S — the Samsung Fascinate — when that phone launches, but versions for Android devices on other the carriers are in a holding pattern.
Although I’m happy with Google searches on my Nexus One using a T-Mobile SIM card, I really would like to have tried the Bing app on my smartphone. There’s no technical reason the app won’t run on my device; this is purely a business partner situation. As a Skype user since 2004, I wouldn’t mind having Skype Mobile too, but again, that software and service is limited to a particular carrier here. I can appreciate carrier-specific apps limited to phones on a particular network, but when it comes to larger, third-party software vendors, I see a situation where carriers are trying too hard for a value play. Limiting software by platform makes sense for many reasons, but limiting an app to a carrier is a desperate effort to attract new customers.
For now, it seems that Verizon is continuing to combat its lack of an iPhone with excellent Android hardware like the Motorola Droid X , HTC Incredible, and upcoming Samsung Fascinate, as well as having a stellar network with massive national coverage. That type of strategy certainly makes sense, and to some extent, is paying off: Last quarter, Verizon gained 665,000 postpaid subscribers, while postpaid churn was 0.94 percent. Adding exclusive Android apps like Skype Mobile and Bing for Mobile may be helping to small degree, but it runs the risk of souring consumer sentiment, potentially towards both Verizon and Microsoft.
Indeed, this situation might be worth a mention to Matt Thompson, Microsoft’s GM for Developer and Platform Evangelism, one of our Mobilize event speakers next month. The approach is akin to Microsoft Office only running on computers from Dell, and I know that would never fly with regulators, nor consumers. I’ll just have to try Bing on the web using my Android phone. Last I checked, the web was still usable on all of the carrier’s networks.
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