Understood as a must-have feature, mobile search still needs fine-tuning.
Proving the value of mobile search applications and technologies is one thing. Building a workable business model is something else altogether.
Although there are serious plans afoot for mobile search, there remain serious technology integration hurdles, a relatively steep mobile search learning curve for consumers, and some pesky intra-industry issues.
“The issue for mobile search is trying to add more value and metadata for customers to find what they want and monetize the value. But current search tools are too slow for the data they want to provide, and the quantity is difficult to search and to cross-correlate,” says Steven King, vice president of sales and marketing for the embedded business group at Hitachi.
“In two to three years, there will be four times the data, and consumers will want better, faster mobile searches. The mobile search industry will have to differentiate search in the future,” he says.
Lent: More partnerships are emerging.
One differentiator, according to Brian Lent, CEO of mobile search player Medio Systems, is open platforms. “We’re seeing more consumers searching for Web-based content, so we need to be open-platformed. They are also looking for more Amazon.com-type content. That will lead people to discovering new services on their mobile devices.”
At least, that’s the theory. The reality, Lent admits, is that the business of mobile search still has some speed bumps ahead. “There are technical hurdles like bandwidth, batteries, encryption, power demands, and how can voice be expanded to where users can really be speech-accurate. And the business models require awareness and adoption. There are volumes of issues. But there’s a good sense of where the mobile market is going technologically, and there are developing business and co-marketing partnerships.”
One of the partnerships includes the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), which has embraced mobile search as one of its newer initiatives.
“We have 23 committees, and mobile search is one of them. It’s working on education, case studies and documentation. The key issue is understanding what mobile search is and helping people to understand the differences between mobile search and Internet search, along with the opportunities for search advertising,” says Laura Marriott, president of MMA.
A key component to mobile search’s business model is value, experts maintain. The question is how to define it, and how and what to charge for it, if anything.
“All of our customers – carriers, application providers and handset manufacturers – see mobile search as embedded value-added-capable. That really surprised me. They want to do it because it’s such a value-add. It would far surpass the value of a revenue-generating service. It’s about flipping the equation around,” says Dave Grannan, president and CEO of vlingo, a mobile search technology company in the voice recognition space.
Getting people to actually find and use search applications, even with the trend toward richer graphics and ease-of-use, can be tricky.
Burns: Need to figure
out the next level of
“We haven’t seen richer graphics as an important driver to mobile search. Speed is driving mobile usage and search. The idea of what consumers want versus their expectations is very different. Search is a navigational technique on mobile, so we want to keep it a short-tail search, and try to figure out the next level of user expectation,” says Ted Burns, vice president of product development for 4INFO, a search company exploring a greater role for video in mobile search.
One of the next levels may be vertical markets such as real estate, travel, attorneys and other niche type searches, suggests Brian Levin, CEO of Useful Networks, whose new mobile search applications, sniff, Snocator and geo, are combining social networking with location-based services.
“No doubt, we’re seeing global search opportunities and vertical search. But it’s about keeping it simple, and there haven’t been any promotional bursts. But we’re seeing the forces coming together and there’s a big opportunity in adding location-based elements to mobile marketing, like banner ads, local weather and proximity-based alerts. Now, we have to take baby steps with advertisers. But the technology is there,” Levin adds.
However, the pace toward mobile search advertising may actually be accelerating because the table stakes are rising.
“I think we’ll see more and more white label (no branding by mobile search manufacturers) solutions and we may see embedded applications in phones. We’re developing applications like go2 Golf and go2 Pets, and I think we’ll see more of those as advertisers allocate more budget to mobile. Mobile is like the Internet pyramid, with search and discovery at the top and content beneath them. But carriers enabling advertising was huge in the mobile search ecosystem,” says Lee Hancock, founder of go2, a mobile media company in the mobile search arena using an SMS delivery system.
As the mobile search ecosystem expands, experts agree that it will get down to advancing technologies, business models and consumer adoption if the search species is to thrive, especially new technologies such as voice-to-text.
In the meantime, the Missouri state slogan comes into play. Says vlingo’s Grannan: “The challenges are 100% on the business side. People want to see the inflexion point, the adoption. It’s a Show-Me proposition and will it increase usage.”
And will mobile search increase in value. “Carriers must offer more for people to pay even a little more,” says David Chamberlain, principal wireless analyst for the research group, In-Stat. “And they’re making mobile search a differentiator.”