8 Mobile Search Services Mini-Reviewed

October 17, 2006

Topics: Reviews.

It’s becoming impossible to ignore the importance of mobile browsing devices in building a web marketing strategy. Coupled with preparing your website for mobile access, it’s important to be aware of the major mobile search services available and what they can do for you.

What’s the difference between these mobile services? What special services do they offer; what limitations do they have? Here are brief reviews of the 8 most major services currently in the market (in no particular order):

  1. Google Mobile

    Well, of course Google has an entry in the mobile search market. Google’s mobile search rewrites your page in order to, ideally, best display it on your device. Of course, this system has a few flaws: rewriting the XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language - HTML reformulated as XML (eXtensible Markup Language)) doesn’t necessarily result in a usable site. On at least one example, the page actually failed to render at all…

    What else does Google currently provide?

    Google has the major advantage that they have dozens of services which they can convert into mobile-friendly formats.

  2. 4Info Mobile Search

    4Info is a mobile specific search engine. Of course, their search is usable from their website, but it’s not a significant target market. A much more limited search index than Google’s, searches are focused on information immediacy rather than the entire web: default searches are likely to turn up stock information, news headlines, sports scores, yellow pages information, or other similarly immediate need information.

    This seems on first blush like an advantage: but not necessarily. If you’re searching for information not available in their index, you simply get irrelevant information (based on word similarity.) Services from the major search engines are designed to return the types of data that 4Info returns, but also have the possibility of returning other websites. Still, 4Info’s limited scope helps ensure that a query will only return certain types of data. And a full web search is possible by visiting their main site, as well.

    Other services from 4Info:

    • SMS text messaging information: text messages addressed to 44636 (4INFO).
    • Text alerts: define events which should automatically trigger SMS messages. Sports scores, stock quotes, weather – sent to your phone based on specific criteria you’ve set.
    • 4INFO Mobile application: provides access to channeled content and saved searches.
  3. Ask Mobile

    Ask uses a service called Skweezer to process web pages searched on their mobile site. Unfortunately, at the time I’m writing this Skweezer seems unable to "skweeze" anything. The service provides searches through Ask.com, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Looksmart, compressing and reformatting their pages for optimal display in handheld devices. So, a service not dissimilar to Google’s compression methods: except with the added benefit that you can go to Skweezer.net and set your own preferences. (And the detriment that it’s not apparently working for me…)

    Regardless, Ask has a nice straightforward mobile interface offering a number of services:

    • Driving or Walking directions
    • Image search
    • Business Listings
    • Mapping Service
    • Weather
    • Bloglines blog search
    • Area codes (wondering where that phone call came from?)
    • Currency Conversion
    • Horoscope
    • Time zones
  4. Yahoo! Mobile

    Yahoo!’s mobile search directs you to Local, Image, or Web search by default – reasonable offerings. SMS searches are also available, providing much the same kind of data available from other SMS serivces.

    Yahoo! also provides mobile web services including Yahoo! Mail, Messenger, games, and a wide variety of services from their collection of mainstream services. The specific services available, however, vary widely depending on your specific phone: somewhat of a disadvantage.

    Oh…and the information site for Yahoo!’s mobile web offerings is really annoying. Left me cold.

  5. MSN (Live) Mobile

    Live Mobile brings us back to the nice and simple interface. Unusual for Microsoft, but welcome. The search provides access to web search, local, mapping, news, and spaces search.

    Additional services include:

    • Windows Live Messenger for mobile (seems pointless to me…)
    • Customized home pages
    • Email access
    • RSS (Really Simple Syndication) content at Live.com

    Live Mobile wins the award for most confusing services listing…

  6. AOL (America Online) Mobile

    AOL offers Web search, Local search, Shopping, and "Surf the Web" as their search options. Trying out the Surf the Web option (whatever it’s supposed to do) resulted in an internal server error for me, so that’ll remain a mystery.

    In addition to the basic search options which are pretty commonly available, AOL provides:

    • AOL and AIM Mail
    • CityGuide (allows you to set your location and find a variety of services in that area.)
    • MovieFone
    • AOL Feed Reader
    • MapQuest
    • AOL Pictures
    • News/Weather/Sports
    • Entertainment

    Same ideas as everybody else, for the most part – although the incorporation of MovieFone seems like a nice touch.

  7. Nokia Mobile Search

    Nokia, of course, is a mobile phone company rather than a search company. As such, their service offerings are a little different from the others. Nokia provides a downloadable application (only for Nokia phones, of course) which provides a search interface for users. Searches are provided by a variety of service providers, depending on your location: in the United States, it’s either Windows Live or Yahoo! – in Canada, you’ll also get searches from Yellowpages.ca.

    Nokia’s search software gives you the choice of Web, Local, or Image search to begin your search process. In local search, you can have the immediate choice to call a found service immediately, add their number to your contacts list, or map the location – a handy way of taking advantage of their service integration. In addition, the local search automatically detects your location, providing local results wherever you happen to be.

  8. Technorati Mobile

    Well, Technorati Mobile search doesn’t really have any extra features: Technorati searches blogs, and that’s exactly what their mobile search does. If all you want is to search Technorati’s blog index, come here.

    Unfortunately, Technorati Mobile doesn’t give you the ability to log in to your Technorati account, view your favorites, or any of the other possible benefits you might get from it.

So that’s mobile search in a nutshell. Lots of services, lots of common features, and the odd custom feature. For myself, interface makes a big difference: and the winners (to me) for interface were Ask.com and AOL. (I can’t believe I’m favoring AOL…). Why are these interfaces preferable to me? They’re providing basic lists of their services in very straightforward list form. They don’t segregate their services into different web addresses, inaccessible from each other.

Google was pretty good, as well – but still not quite appealing. 4Info incorporates all of their search tools into a single search box – except for web search, which is located at a different web address, with no link. Live Mobile tries to make you download a .dll file when you visit it…not very appealing.

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7 Comments to “8 Mobile Search Services Mini-Reviewed”

  1. I tried to avoid making any really biased calls – but, on re-reading the 4Info section, I did possibly give the impression that I didn’t care for them.

    Actually, I found their services to be quite handy: the single query interface is great.

    I think you’ve hit the crux of the matter in saying “if I’m using a mobile search engine, I have a specific need and would want a limited scope”. I suspect this is a factor which needs to be considered: people using mobile devices have very specific needs.

    I certainly agree with the desirability of limited scope, but I think it’s also beneficial to go to a single location to access these various micro-searches: on Ask.com and AOL (America Online), this is easily done, because they provide very immediate access to the various scopes.

  2. You make some good points but I gotta say — if I’m using a mobile search engine, I have a specific need and would want a limited scope — especially on a mobile phone with a 3-inch screen. If I was doing general research, sure, I’d want a lot more. But that’s not the purpose of 4info. FYI –They are going to be one of the companies at the next Under the Radar: Mobility — more info here -http://undertheradarblog.com/under-the-radar-mobility-conference/

  3. Must have – it’s working fine now!

    And, for what it’s worth, I like the way it works better than Google’s compression algorithm: you’ve streamlined things without adding the curious extra navigation structure which Google’s XHTML (eXtensible HyperText Markup Language - HTML reformulated as XML (eXtensible Markup Language)) search imposes.

    Thanks for your comment!

  4. Great review. I think you caught us during a brief maintenance window.

    Try it again!


  5. Nice post.

    I will be speaking at eComXpo on October 24th, viewing it is free, please sign up via the link on my blog.

  6. I think your gut instinct is right – in both ways.

    Google has all the resources; but sometimes they organize their products like engineers (no surprises there, I guess.)

    They could really stand to bring in some usability consultants: they won the first stage with their simple search, but are losing their hold on that particular advantage with the complexity of their newer offerings.

  7. Nice review, Joe. Thanks.

    Good to see all of these described all in one place. I expect that we will see an incredibly rapid evolution of services from these companies in the future.

    My gut instinct is that Google will broaden what they offer even more – I’m not sure it will result in a better search, though.