Locale Isn't The Only Relevant Context For Mobile Search

A story from Reuters declares that Yahoo has “jumped ahead” of Google in mobile search with the release of its latest mobile search product, called OneSearch. Yahoo’s focusing on the ability of OneSearch to perform local-centric searches: users input their city or zip code, and search results are geared toward that locale. So if they search for a movie title, they’ll get local showtimes, for instance. It also pulls results in from a number of different sources; some useful (news headlines, business listings) and some not so useful (Flickr photos). Still, OneSearch gives a nod to the idea that mobile search is fundamentally different than web search, and that mobile users want their search results to be information, not just links to web pages that might have some information.

However, it seems to come up just a little bit short by considering locale as the overwhelming context for mobile search. It’s much more important to determine the context of a mobile search than it is a web search on a PC, simply because of physical factors like a smaller screen and more difficult navigation. There’s also little doubt that local search is an important aspect of mobile search — but it’s not the only one, so products designed largely around local search, while ignoring other contexts, may not find so much favor with users. Given the claim about Yahoo surging ahead of Google here, it’s interesting to compare their efforts. While it’s clearly thinking of how to predict and determine the context of mobile search, for now, it seems content to let users define it by accessing different Google services through different applications. For instance, its SMS services are geared towards listings and other brief snippets of information, while a richer local search experience can be accessed through its Google Maps for Mobile app. The context is indicated by the application the user chooses, rather than being determined by some algorithm.

Yahoo’s OneSearch certainly is ahead of Google’s web-based mobile search product, and the all-in-one vs. dedicated application approaches are fairly divergent, but both companies are showing an understanding of the different demands on mobile search than on their standard PC-based products. That said, the perfect mobile search application remains a ways off.

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