Carriers Are Playing the Field When It Comes to Search

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Carriers are swapping mobile search partners in an effort to better monetize users looking for content on the wireless web. The latest round of deals could help knock Google (s goog), which currently dominates mobile search, off its perch.

T-Mobile USA recently bumped Yahoo (s yhoo) in favor of Google as the default search engine on its handsets, ending a year-old agreement that saw Yahoo power search on the carrier’s Web2Go service. (Yahoo said that it will continue to deliver content for Web2Go.) The move came just days after AT&T (s t) said it had tapped Yahoo for search on its new Motorola (s mot) Backflip, marking the first time Google’s search offering was replaced on an Android handset. And it follows Verizon Wireless’s decision last fall to make Bing the default search provider on BlackBerry (s rimm) handsets, replacing options including Google and Wikipedia.

The recent round of partner-swapping among carriers and mobile search providers may seem trivial in light of all the recent attention focused on downloadable search applications, but the tie-ups could significantly impact the space over the next few years. While smartphone users always have the option of typing in a URL or firing up a search app, casual users will typically settle for the default engine on a mobile browser. That doesn’t bode well for Google, which could see its search engine get bumped from its own Android platform if other carriers follow AT&T’s lead. Google continues to dominate mobile search, accounting for more than 9 percent of all page views on the mobile web in January, according to the admittedly small sample of Opera Software users, and comScore reported last August that more than half of all mobile search users said they used Google. But that dominance will be threatened as carriers opt for other partners to direct users on the mobile web.

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Image courtesy Flickr user g.orginals.

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A S

It is extremely bad form if carriers don’t let their users change the default search engine. I suspect a lawsuit down the road if this practice becomes too prevalent. Users should be given choice.

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