Before mobile search reaches mass adoption it must first develop

The technology industry is "now entering the age of search", at least according to John Lervik. As the CEO of enterprise search tools maker Fast Search & Transfer (Fast), Lervik clearly has a vested interest in promoting such notions (whatever it might mean), but even the most cursory look at Google's stock price gives a clear indication that search technologies are currently en vogue.

While Internet and enterprise search have raced ahead, the same cannot be said of the mobile world. Currently, just 3% of all Internet searching is done via mobile phones, says David Thevenon, European operations programme manager at Google.

Users have enthusiastically embraced the concept of mobile email, but few have been enticed to see Internet access as a mobile pastime. In part this is because the gateway to Internet browsing – namely search – has been hindered by a lack of bandwidth and poor user interfaces. But that is all about to change.

Only around 50%-60% of current handsets sold are capable of carrying data, says Eric McCabe, marketing vice president of mobile search tool maker JumpTap. "In the next two to three years, that will have reached 95%. So where only 3% of search is done via mobile at present, there will be at least a 50% range by 2008."

Evidence of this potential can be seen as vendors begin to jockey for position in the market. In early January 2006, for example, Internet search giant Google announced a partnership with mobile phone manufacturer Motorola which will see the latter integrate a Google icon onto select Motorola devices letting users connect directly to Google via wireless application protocol (WAP).

According to a Motorola spokesperson, these mass-market, Internet-optimised handsets will be distributed worldwide in the first half of 2006.

But before mobile search reaches mass adoption, it must first develop as a true medium in its own right, warns Google's Thevenon. "The user interface (UI) has to evolve to suit needs," he says.

"If we don't meet expectations, users will walk away," agrees Jean-Benoit van Bunnen, marketing manager for service discovery at mobile phone operator, Orange. "The technology still needs tweaking. There are options for introducing a mobile RSS reader, handset search, and voice search. All of these technologies are still being developed and would enhance the user experience – particularly for enterprise users."

Fast's Lervik says mobile search will be a consumer-led technology, but that the enterprise will follow soon after. Fast plans to release of an enterprise version of its mobile search product, mSearch, in the last quarter of 2006.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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