Mobile search stagnant despite popularity

While accessing information in the Internet has grown into mythical proportions, it is a complete opposite of mobile search whose development has remained static despite its wide user adoption.

“There is little ‘joy of use’ in the current mobile search user experience,” according to Sarah Burnett, senior analyst of global consulting and advisory firm Ovum, based in London, England.

Mobile search, which refers to the seeking of information in the Internet via mobile phones and other devices, was described by Burnett as still in its “infancy,” wherein the typical user experience leaves much to be desired. She added that with a growing appetite for mobile content, consumers and business users will be looking to mobile search for information or content access and retrieval.

“Vendors and content providers have to recognize that people interact with their mobile phones in very different ways than they do with their PCs,” Burnett said. “The interaction is dictated by the tiny screen, typically awkward keypad and limited on-screen navigation. Given these constraints, navigating a long list of search results is hardly user-friendly.”

The executive also commented that given the rapid evolution of mobile devices and networks in recent years, many are expecting that mobile search would provide slick interfaces and accurate results, but in most cases, they would be disappointed.

“Mobile search should deliver answers, not links,” advised Mark Blowers, also a principal analyst at Ovum.

Blowers explained there is more to mobile search than just browsing. In mobile devices there is an increased need for accuracy, relevancy and contextual results. This is not to say that PC users do not require the same, but on a PC it is much easier to create an advanced search query that improves the probability of getting the right answer.

He noted the need for a simple and easy user interface and user-friendly results is amplified in a mobile device. Already, mobile search tools such as Taptu only list sites that are optimized for mobile viewing.

“As more people switch to mobiles for web access, site sponsors will see their hits decline unless they provide better mobile support,” Blowers said.

Ovum reported that Google and Yahoo have started to offer location-tailored results. Given their Internet search presence, it is not surprising that they are the two leading players in the mobile search market — helped by alliances with mobile service providers that place them as preferred search solutions on web-enabled handsets. Their solutions are optimized for mobile use. And to facilitate speed of delivery, URL and search suggestions appear as a user types.

Yet another vendor, Apple, is said to provide a good example of how successful location-based search applications can be as there are many offerings within Apple’s App Store that use the handset’s location to provide details of local facilities (such as restaurants) and other tailored information.

“The giants of PC-based search will be difficult to topple. Small technology companies will continue to create niche mobile search applications,” Blowers said. “But brand recognition and deep research and development pockets make existing market leaders obvious favorites in the race for mobile search queries, and ultimately, the associated advertising revenues.”

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