T-Mobile USA executives explained that it abruptly ended its year-old exclusive search deal with Yahoo, and replaced it with Google (NSDQ: GOOG), because it is what their subscribers wanted. “It was customer led; the Google brand is associated with Internet and search,” Ian McKerlich, T-Mobile’s director of mobile web and content, told mocoNews today.
We were the first to report last week that T-Mobile dropped one search provider for the other, leading to to significant shift in control of the U.S. mobile search market away. Google now has deals with T-Mobile and Sprint; (NYSE: S) Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) works with AT&T (NYSE: T) and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has partnered with Verizon Wireless. Clearly, the space continues to be fragmented, but T-Mobile’s sudden change of heart raises an important question: Will carriers continue to be able to lock-in lucrative contracts with search providers with the promise of directing traffic their way when consumers are demanding to use other services?
McKerlich said for other reasons, the switch made sense. T-Mobile was the first carrier to work closely with Google on rolling out its Android-based devices, so having a “single partner across our own portfolio,” allowed it to cut down on the number of messages T-Mobile had to deliver.
T-Mobile said it started updating its web2go Web portal with Google search back in February. As part of the switch, it made other updates to the service, including making it more touch-friendly and easy to personalize. But it also changed the way it lumped together both mobile content results with web results into a single page. If a subscriber searched for “Beyonce,” both ringtones and general web results would be returned. McKerlich: “We believed in federated search being well suited for mobile devices, but federated results were confusing to the consumer. Now we have more of a pure play search.” Seattle-based Medio Systems continues to index and return content results in the Google deal, just as it did for T-Mobile with Yahoo, but they will only show up when someone searches the download store.
The web2go portal is now available on 94 percent of all T-Mobile phones, including the Motorola (NYSE: MOT) Cliq, BlackBerry devices, a majority of feature phones, and even the upcoming HTC HD2. T-Mobile said the changes, including the switch to Google, has led to a 300 percent increase in traffic per customer, and in the case of the Cliq, 25 percent of customers have customized their home page. Of course, users can still opt to open a web browser and go to any search provider it would like, such as Yahoo or Bing.
McKerlich declined to discuss the financial arrangement between T-Mobile and either Google or T-Mobile. “In either relationship, both of them were attractive deals when we did them.” Is T-Mobile concerned that it is becoming to reliant on Google? McKerlich: “I don