Mobile search

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Mobile Search is an evolving branch of information retrieval services that is centered around the convergence of mobile platforms and mobile handsets or other mobile devices. The services allow users to find mobile content interactively on mobile websites, and mobile content shows a media shift toward mobile multimedia. Simply put, mobile search is not just a spatial shift of PC web search to mobile equipment, but is witnessing more of treelike branching into specialized segments of mobile broadband and mobile content, both of which show a fast-paced evolution.


Market description

"Competition for the US mobile search market promises to be fierce, thanks to the large US online ad market and strong pushes by portals. By 2011, mobile search will account for around $715 million, or almost 15% of a total mobile advertising market worth nearly $4.7 billion", according to a leading market research firm. [1] Depending on a researcher's particular bias toward telecom, Web or technology factors, the published forecasts for global mobile search vary from $1.5 billion by 2011 (from Informa Telecoms & Media) to over $11 billion by 2008 (according to Piper Jaffray). [2]

Mobile Search is important for the usability of mobile content for the same reasons as internet search engines became important to the usability of internet content. Early internet content was largely provided by portals such as Netscape. As the depth of available content grew, portals were unable to provide total coverage. As a result internet search engines such as Google and AltaVista proved popular as a way of allowing users to find the increasingly specialist content they were looking for.

There is a similar situation developing in the mobile content industry. Given early adopter usage of mobile services, there has been a vast increase in the depth of content developed for mobile phones. There are now few large organizations that do not offer a mobile service of some sort. Most of the operators run their own portals that showcase the best available content. However, given the limitations of a mobile phones screen size and general navigability, most of available content that has been written for mobile users is effectively invisible to users. Research from Qpass suggests that less than 36% of an operator's portal is within 30 seconds navigation distance for the user - this being the expected time users expect to find content in.

The early deals are taking place as cell phone operators recognize that mobile Internet search is an inherently different business than its desktop counterpart. Whereas people might use a Web-connected personal computer to search for information about an 18th-century British author, they are more likely to use cell phones to find targeted information like news, weather and sports. Cell phones also offer much less space to enter in search terms and smaller screens to display results.

Some of the advancements by the major portals in Internet search, such as Google's famous page-ranking scheme, don't apply in the mobile world since people aren't searching for Web sites as much as answers to specific questions. Alltel's group president of operations, Kevin Beebe, says the Internet search giants aren't yet delivering the kind of results the mobile content industry wants. "What they're trying to do is take that core search capability and just jam it onto the phone," Mr. Beebe said. "That's probably not the right approach."

"Mobile search is a battle to define perhaps the most important new interface with the consumer," says John du Pre Gauntt, eMarketer Senior Analyst and the author of the new report, Mobile Search: Clash of the Titans. "Whoever cracks the consumer and commercial code for delivering and monetizing relevant answers for people on the go will secure a license to print money, at least for a time."

Types of mobile search

Within the broad umbrella of mobile search (the ability to browse for mobile specific content), there are a range of services. Given the relative immaturity of the market, not all of these can be expected to become the industry standards.

Mobile optimized search engines - Most major search engines have implemented a mobile optimized version of their products that take into consideration bandwidth and form factor limitations of the mobile platform. For example, Yahoo has launched a product branded as Yahoo [OneSearch][2] and Google has launched a mobile friendly version of their search engine as well.

Mobile question and answer services - These services allow a user to text a question to a central database and receive a reply using text. A usage example would be a user that wants to know the answer to a very specific question but is not in front of his/her computer. Most mobile 'Q&A' services are powered by human researchers and are therefore a type of organic search engine. An example of such a service in the US is Question Mania [3], where every question is answered via text message, by a real person. A new approach by AskMeNow is to use Semantic Web technology to automate the process. Some emerging services such as MyHelpa in the UK address the perceived limitations of one-shot, reverse billed SMS messages by using VoIP to connect the Caller directly to the Human search agent.

Mobile directory search - This service is known by different names dependent on country and operator. It can also be known as 'Find My Nearest' or 'Mobile Yellow Pages' services. The basics of the services allow users to find local services in the vicinity of their current location. The services often use location-based technology to pinpoint exactly where the user currently is. An example of usage would be a user looking for a local cab or taxi company after a night out. Services also usually come with a map and directions to help the user. An example is the service offered by Yell in the UK which is powered by MobilePeople's technology. More details can be found in mobile local search.

Mobile discovery services These services offer users recommendations on what they should do next. An example would be recommending a user a similar ringtone to the one that s/he has just browsed for. They operate, in a mobile context, in a similar way to the recommendation engines provided by internet retail shops such as An example of real usage is the Directory Enquiries (DQ) service operated by Orange in the UK. Callers to the Orange landline DQ service are given the business and residential numbers they have requested verbally by an operator. In addition, Orange sends the information in text format to the users mobile phone. The information contains a text reminder of the requested information as well as links to local businesses, services and other interesting information in the local area that the user has searched on.

Mobile navigation services - These services provide the indexing structure to the portals provided by mobile operators. They index the content already on the operators' portal but also provide users access to mobile specific content that is available outside the confines of the portal.

Dynamic Mobile Selection Interface Services - A new category of mobile search tool that is emerging is one in which a pre-selected set of possible search content is downloaded in advance by a mobile user and then allows for a final internet search step. An example of such search tools is the Worldport Navigator for the iPhone, which provides users with a push-button experience of selecting from thousands of human-screened and categorized Web selections in three or four seconds, without the need for text entry, search, result review, or page-scrolling.

Main providers

Name & Mobile URL SMS# C. Description Launch
199QUERY 19978379AUS
AU Founded by Seb Maslin. 199QUERY is the premier Australian and New Zealand Text service that answers any question sent to it by SMS using a combination of human experts and intelligent organic search engine. Unique in that SMS messages are then broadcast on TV April 2006 [3]
4info 44636
Any Question Answered 63336UK
UK IE Founded by ex-Symbian and Psion CEO Colly Myers, AQA uses human researchers to provide answers to any free form search queries or customer questions. It was the first company to provide such a service using only a premium short code and not a combination of shortcode and keyword. 2004 US ... A free service where real people research your questions and deliver answers, typically in minutes[4]. October 2008[5]
AskMeNow 27563


US CA Gives users the option of searching for information using an SMS short code, a WAP 2.0 site, or mobile applications. Uses natural language search that allows users to ask a question and receive an answer. AskMeNow has a carrier deals with Rogers Wireless and Bell Mobility in Canada and Alltel Wireless in the United States. 2005
ChaCha Text 242 242 or voice 800-2ChaCha US An SMS and Voice natural language-based question answering service by ChaCha (search engine). Allows users on any carrier network to ask any question on any subject and the answer is provided by a human "guide".

Innovative by the fact that it enables Internet users (only with a US work permit) earning money by finding answers.

DOTEDU (368338)
DOTGOV (368468)
DOTNET (368638)
DOTORG (368674)
US DOTGO is an extension of the internet to cell phone text messaging. 2008
Google 466453 US Offers Google SMS which allows users to obtain information by texting in structured syntax to an SMS shortcode. Limited to the categorical information they offer. Google has carrier deals with Britain's Vodafone, China Mobile, and KDDI Corp. in Japan but not specifically for the SMS product.  ?
GTIP and other co-branded customer implementations 61199UK
UK IE DE Launched by AlienPants initially as a generalised service but later deliberately limited to computer game cheats, the service is made available to multiple customers under each customer's own brand, such as T-Mobile as the 'T-Mobile Cheat Service', or as GuruGold in support of the on-screen 'Games Guru' on Sky One's primetime computer games program 'Gamezville'. The first in-print co-branded service, in association with GamePlayer magazine, appeared in the magazine in May, 2004.[6]. January 2003[7]
Infospace  ?  ? Provider of meta-search, a technology by which they search the search engines and allow users the ability to search Google, Yahoo, Ask and Microsoft at the same time. Infospace also provides local search services and offers many of these serivces to mobile carriers, in a white labeled approach.  ?
Interchan 55155 Taiwan Totally free mobile search which also enables free connect function. Designed for all mobile devices. May 2009
Jumptap  ?  ? JumpTap offers white-label mobile search.  ?
Microsoft Live Search for Mobile (also Bing Mobile) 1 800 CALL 411

(dial-in, not an SMS#)

US? Users have the option of searching from their mobile browsers (homepage), download client applications specifically designed for Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices (download), and search by voice, from any phone, by calling a toll-free number. 2006-11
China mInfo is a mobile search provider based in China. They offer services on SMS, WAP and on-phone applet. Available on all three mobile carriers. Has an exclusive deal with China Telecom to power its Omni-search platform. 2005-11
Roboo (WAP) China Roboo is a mobile search provider based in China. They focus on entertainment resources, including ring, theme, image, music, video etc. 2006-11
Mosio sms to USA Mosio is a mobile community based "question & answer" / search service. It's similar to ChaCha except the answers are provided by the community as opposed to paid searchers. Mosio won the best mobile app award at SXSW in 2008. 2008
MobilePeople A/S Leading provider of Local search and advertising solution for mobiles  ? DK? mobilePeople is a private independent global leader in local mobile search and advertising solutions for directory publishers and directory assistance providers. The company builds mobile presence, distribution and advertising utilising its award winning liquid Mobile Platform. It caters for any handset including iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia, HTC, SonyEricsson, Motorola, LG and Samsung. Global customers include; Yell (UK), Gouden Gids (NL), Promedia (BE), Golden Pages (IE), Páginas Amarelas (PT), Schibsted (NO), Schibsted (SE), Sensis (AUS), Eniro (DK), Eniro (NO), EDC (DK), Yellow Pages Group (NZ) and Local Matters (USA). mobilePeople is headquartered in Copenhagen (DK) and has regional offices in London (UK), Denver (US) and Melbourne (AUS). 2002-01
Picollator  ?  ? Users upload an image from their mobile phones and search for relevant resources. Designed for Windows Mobile and Nokia devices. January 2008
[Taptu] USA UK Taptu is a mobile specific search engine, built from the ground up with mobile in mind. It's differentiated from Google's and Yahoo's mobile search in that it only returns

mobile results where as the others may return links to non-mobile websites which may not render properly on a mobile phone. Taptu also offers refined searches for images, music, and videos.


(formerly Re5ult and 82ASK)


UK Founded by Thomas Roberts and Sarah McVittie. Texperts is an SMS-based service that uses a combination of human experts and sophisticated algorithms to provide bespoke answers to any customer query. 2003-06 or 08?
[Towza] USA & Intl Towza is mobile search engine that aggregates results from multiple search engines, which include restaurant guides, google, yahoo, wikipedia, and price comparison shopping tools. Towza also has a directory listing of the mobile specific versions of popular websites. 2008 Worldport Navigator USA & Intl The Worldport Navigator, developed by Incandescent, Inc., is a unique combination of data access engine and mobile search capabilities. Its Graphical User Interface (GUI) includes an unusual hexagonal ring structure to enable faster selection of options than with conventional mobile search solutions. By providing a combination of extensive cached pre-selected common data search options (so that direct access to the internet is only required for the final search option selected) plus a more intuitive GUI, Worldport Navigator users can access data up to 50 times faster than with other search engines, according to the developer's most recent 2009 test results. It is currently available for the iPhone. 2009
Yahoo! oneSearch [4] 92466US[8]


UK US ... A mobile local search that is offered via mobile applications. Yahoo! has a search deal with British carrier Hutchison 3G UK Ltd.  ?

See also

  • Mobile local search - article on mobile search for 'local things' such as nearby businesses, events, traffic reports etc.
  • Upsnap


  1. eMarketer - Mobile Search in the US.
  2. eMarketer - The Search Wars Are Going Mobile
  3. "Question Answer SMS Service Launched in Australia". 199QUERY Pty. Ltd.. 2006-04-01. Retrieved 2008-02-10. 
  4. review on
  5. [1]
  8. Yahoo! oneSearch. Get answers with search designed for mobile

External links

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