Microsoft today launched numerous new features for its Bing for Mobile service, including transit information and improved auto-suggestion for searches. Owners of Apple iOS and Google Android phones will see the updates, which are made possible through the HTML5 web browsing standard. The browser for Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform doesn’t yet support HTML5 however, so those handsets won’t see the new functionality now. Microsoft intends to add HTML5 support to its mobile browser with the “Mango” update due out before the end of this year.
I took the new Bing features for a test drive on an iPod touch earlier today and found the updates to be effective. The search auto-completion feature provides local weather as soon as you start typing a city after the phrase “weather in.” Each character after that dynamically alters the search results, and I never had to type more than a few letters in my tests to get what I was looking for.
Transit information is now included in Bing’s map navigation and five cities — Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles — gain real-time transit data. Commuters in those locations can see if their transportation is on-time as scheduled or facing delays. The service also includes prediction times for arrivals. Image searches also appear faster in Bing, and the Shopping experience is faster and more intuitive.
Microsoft also says apps will be returned in search results when using Bing for Mobile on an iPhone. That function may not have filtered down yet, because I couldn’t find iPhone apps when searching for them on either of my test devices. I suspect that finding and tapping an iPhone app in Bing would simply open the iTunes App Store on the device for installation. In addition to the other new features, Microsoft has localized data for movie searches. And in this case, it did return theaters and current showtimes nearest to my location.
All in all, the improvements for Bing are welcome, but it’s a shame that owners of Microsoft’s newest mobile platform can’t take advantage of them. Regardless, there’s the open question of whether using Bing, a Swiss Army Knife of software, is better than using a series of specialized applications for the functions it provides. There’s still room for both web services and software, however, so it makes sense for Microsoft to keep improving Bing, especially since it was the only search engine to grow unique page views last month.