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Google's Challenges in Mobile Search

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Google’s (s goog) dominance on the Internet is unquestioned, but its mobile search offering will have to address four major factors if it is to dominate wireless the way it rules the online world. There’s no denying Google’s momentum in mobile: Its Android operating system is attracting handset manufacturers and carriers at impressive rates, its developer community is showing growth, and thanks to a deal with Verizon (s vz), the OS will soon enjoy the reach of America’s largest mobile network operator.

That momentum will help Google’s mobile search business nearly triple over the next two-plus years, Jefferies & Co. is predicting, surpassing the $500 million mark in 2011. And that figure seems almost modest, as mobile search is expected to help fuel $4.2 billion in ad revenues in the U.S. alone by 2015, according to new figures from Coda Research Consultancy. But mobile search is still a wide-open space teeming with competitors, including pure-play search providers that sometimes understand the pros and cons of wireless better than their Internet counterparts. So Google’s offering will need to address four key issues if the company is to retain its dominance as mobile search gets legs:

  • Consider the device. People look for different things from mobile search than from traditional online search, so results should automatically differ based on the device being used. Just as Google uses device-detection technology to format web pages accordingly, it should deliver different results to mobile phones than to computers.
  • Tie the PC to the phone. Google has moved effectively in this direction with new features that integrate Google Maps on the PC, enabling users to flag specific sites on computers then access information about them later from their handsets, and it has introduced a feature that keeps users’ mobile and desktop histories in sync. It must continue to tie the two devices together to help usher its online users into mobile search.
  • Deliver results based on context. Search histories and filters are a start, but Google and its competitors must do a better job of considering factors such as time of day and location when returning results, minimizing the need for users to scroll through screens to find what they’re looking for.
  • Expand its search categories. A quick look at search apps for Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone indicates a demand for information regarding specific topics like baby names, medical documents and song lyrics. I think there will always be a need for such niche apps, but Google could compete against downloadable search apps by building out its mobile web search to include a host of categories.

Google’s invaluable brand and massive footprint on the web give it huge advantages as it builds its mobile business, and Android is gaining traction in a big way. As the company tries to recreate its online success in mobile, it must increasingly consider the differences between phones and computers. And because handsets may eventually overtake computers as a search platform, this is a game Google must play to win.

10 Responses to “Google's Challenges in Mobile Search”

  1. Android will end like WinMo of today.
    They are sneaky , just to give an example , they don’t allow yahoo imap mail.
    But they allow forwarding yahoo mail to gmail.

    The other apps (maps , and such ) will end up a timely death once Microsoft steps up.

  2. The best reference of what to do, would be the Konqueror !

    The entire toolbar should disappear into a Spotlight reference, where every thing can be found through the Search, hence whether you are looking for a contact on the phone, a camera application, or an interesting location, it should all go through the Search Box.

    The most important thing, is that Google should get rid of their transcoder, it’s doing more harm than good, in a day where everything is accessible.

  3. “Google could compete against downloadable search apps by building out its mobile web search to include a host of categories.”
    if G had niche categories on its search engine 10 years ago they would not have the volume of cybergarbage spam results they have been spewing for years. standardized niche natural language location based categories are the future of mobile and internet search innovation. also who needs a mobile app when the internet works fine and is more adjustable on a mobile device like the iphone. mobile apps are 85% hype.

  4. 80,000,000 potential new Androids users – w00t!

    My requirements using the native Google Maps app, on my ADP1, for search have been excellent. If you have an Android phone, try it yourself – better, more relevant research via Google Maps, with location awareness enabled, compared to browser based search.


    “…this is a game Google must play to win.”

    From Om’s earlier post, I think they already have:

    Microsoft Mobile’s Worst Week Ever

    “…Windows Mobile 6.5 couldn’t have received worse reviews. Some of them are so mean that even I am feeling bad for Ma Windows.”

  5. Justa Notherguy

    So, have you ignored or merely discounted the unique features-set of Google’s Mobile Search?

    On my T-Mobile G1, Voice Search works amazingly well – except in noisy environments – and dovetails beautifully when used in conjunction with the ‘Local’ filter. Not sure if the latter is tied to GPS, only, or also to cell-tower triangulation, but it does a remarkable job of turning up area-specific links, even in the relative wasteland in which I find myself, these days. ;)

    And, as of last week, now mobile users also have easy access to the drop-down ‘Search Options’ menu, as seen on the desktop ( None of this is meant to suggest that there’s no room for improvement, but in the brief time these new features have been available, I’ve found the SERPs (results) speak for themselves.

  6. I agree that mobile search should render unique search results versus desktop search results. Which is why I’m chiming in on behalf of Taptu – a search alternative for the mobile web.

    Taptu, our mobile search service, only provides search results that our mobile friendly content. In the case of our iPhone application, our Taptu app provides touch-friendly content including iPhone Apps, YouTube videos, images, Twitter results and the regular news and trends as well.

    There are weaknesses in mobile search and Taptu is trying to fix them, one query at a time.

    -Jason, Taptu Community Manager