Google Launching Mobile Web Search

Bidding to secure a strong foothold in the rapidly emerging mobile-search marketplace, Google has begun testing of a wireless search service that returns results based in part on how well-suited content is to be viewed on hand-held devices.

Google Mobile Web Search focuses on sites that employ XHTML, or extensible HTML, which can be customized to display differently based on the type of device being used to view a page. It also looks for sites built with other mobile-friendly technology, including WML — wireless access protocol-friendly Web site Meta Language — and iMode.

Users access the service through Google’s home page on Web-enabled mobile devices and select the mobile search function, which is still in beta form.

Designed for Mobile

The search is just one of the several attempts Google has made to attract mobile users. It also offers a text service that provides search results based on simple messaging service (SMS), and a local search product that returns results in Web page form.

On the official Google blog, software engineer Steven Schirripa said the service is a nod to the “millions of people across the globe [who] already use mobile phones like there’s no tomorrow.”

“How different is it than standard Web search? There are sites out there that have already been designed for your mobile phone, which makes them more navigable on the small screen,” Schirripa wrote. “So we’ve created an index specifically for these sites. And so your phone can now be that much more useful.”

The difficulty of viewing Web pages built to be viewed on large PC screens is one of the recurring hurdles facing broader mobile Web use. Device makers are rapidly moving to address those shortcomings, and some newer smartphones do support traditional HTML, the language used to create PC-friendly Web pages.

Imagine the Possibilities

The idea of returning Web-friendly pages is seen as a win by analysts and could help spur the development of more mobile-specific content going forward. That in turn could accelerate the rate at which users begin deploying their hand-helds to do more Web browsing and more advanced Web use, such as mobile commerce.

“With mobile phone use constantly rising, the foundation is in place,” telecom analyst Jeff Kagan told the E-Commerce Times. “It seems like every day new innovations add to the usefulness of the mobile Web.”

Google already offers both Google Local for mobile and a text-only version of its Web search service that utilizes simple messaging service (SMS) to return basic results without the text and graphics of traditional Web pages.

Focusing on mobile-ready Web pages could help Google get to the next logical step of mobile search as well — putting ads on search results. To date, most of the mobile offerings have been stripped of adds, a nod to the newness of the medium as well as the technological hurdles that require delivering stripped-down pages.

However, analysts say mobile search could have myriad other monetization possibilities once it matures, with opportunities for search companies to charge businesses that win customers based on search results or for referrals to online services such as music downloads.

Race Is On

Yahoo and Google have been swapping advances in the mobile search space for some time, though analysts say few users are employing the services so far, leaving the marketplace wide open.

They are far from alone. In fact, last month, Fast Search and Transfer (FAST) said it had developed what it bills as the first true mobile search engine, called mSearch. That tool searches content specifically designed for mobile devices, including cell phone ring tones, hand-held game programs and digital pictures.

FAST is targeting mobile carriers that are interested in branding their search functionality, a strategy that analysts said could pay off in the long run as network operators seek to capitalize on the mobile Web.

Search Engine Watch Editor Gary Price said Yahoo is already working on a service similar to Google’s mobile search and is currently indexing such sites, with content owners able to submit their pages for inclusion.

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