Search comes to mobile phones

Dan Harrelson  

September 12, 2006

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In a recent article CNET discussed how mobile devices (cell phones) are doing much more than just making calls. A very high percentage of users can check email and browse the web on their phones, but very few do because they either aren’t aware that the feature is there or it’s too cumbersome too use. It’s tough to navigate a complex interface like a web site using a tiny phone without a keyboard.

Mobile phones offer plenty more than just voice these days. They can provide news, video clips, local weather and even restaurant recommendations.

Problem is, many customers can’t figure out how to access all that information. That’s where companies like Google and Yahoo, along with a slew of start-ups such as InfoSpace, JumpTap and Medio, see a big opportunity. These companies are developing tools that allow users to search for content. And they’re starting to test search-based advertising to help generate revenue.

I’m starting to think that a web interface on a phone can only ask for text input once (like a search query or a zip code or a login). If the interface is complex enough to require “typing” multiple times, then a user will abandon it quickly. I know I do.

For example, consider a “local” site that allows a user to find dining, retail and entertainment. Prompt them to enter a zip code right up front and then use that one piece of simple, yet powerful, data throughout the experience. Everything after submitting the zip code should be browsing. Browse by restaurant type, but type of entertainment, by retail type, etc. Don’t ask the user to type anything again.