The company has steadily introduced new services designed specifically for the small screen. In January, it released the Google Personalized Home, which lets people access Gmail, news, RSS feeds and other information from their personalized Google home page on mobile phones and PDAs. The service is free in the U.S. and works with any phone that contains an XHTML-capable Web browser.
This summer it launched a downloadable Java application for Google Maps, enabling cell phone users to get information about local restaurants and movies theaters as well as live traffic information on the map.
And this month, it improved its mobile Gmail client to allow quicker access to the application. At the same time, Google has been busy developing partnerships with mobile operators, such as Sprint Nextel and Cingular Wireless. It's also been testing new business models, like text-based mobile advertising, and more localized advertising.
With nearly 3 billion mobile phone subscribers in the world expected by the end of 2007, Google sees great potential for extending its presence throughout the world using the mobile platform, said Deep Nishar, director of product management for Google. CNET News.com recently chatted with Nishar by phone from his office in California to get the scoop on the company's mobile strategy and to get some insight as to how the emerging mobile market might evolve in the next couple of years.
Q: Google has been making a lot of mobile announcements lately. What exactly is the company's strategy when it comes to the mobile market?
Nishar: Our strategy is predicated on three things. The first is that mobile devices are very personal. People carry them wherever they go. And unlike the home PC, people don't share their mobile phones. So it's very important to make the service very personalized.
That's why we've launched Google Personalized Home and mobile Gmail. So people can get this data on their mobile phones all in one place without going to a bunch of different sites.
The second big category we are focusing on is location-based services. People take their cell phones with them everywhere, and they generally are looking for information in the context of a location. When you're on your mobile device and you type in the keyword "movie," you're likely searching for a movie theater because you want to go see a movie. But if you typed in "movie" on your desktop at home, you may be searching for more general information about movies. With Google Maps, we can show you the location of the nearest movie theater, the times of the shows, and even let you purchase tickets from your phone.
But right now, users have to type in their location or a ZIP code, right?
Yes, but the next step is to interact with advanced cell phone technology, like Global Positioning Systems or GPS, so that the device knows where you are. We're already doing that with Helio's new phones. The whole point is to make the user's life simpler.
What's the third piece of the strategy?
In mobile, a one-size-fits-all solution won't work. Given that our mission is to organize the world's information, it's important to make sure our applications work everywhere in the world. But you can't assume that products popular in one region will be popular everywhere.
SMS is a good example. It's very popular in Europe and is gaining popularity in the U.S. But people in Japan don't use SMS; they use mobile e-mail. So it wouldn't make sense to launch an SMS-based search application there because people won't use it. So we need to make sure our services can be accessed globally, but the product execution is local.
So how does Google expect to make money from the new mobile applications it's developing?
We are already testing text-based mobile advertising in Japan and several other countries. And so far the testing is going quite well. So that's one avenue for us to make money. But I think that mobile is still a new medium. The number of people accessing data applications on phones is still relatively low. As usage increases, I am certain there will be other business models that emerge.
Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, said earlier this month that he believes mobile advertising could make cell phones free for consumers. How would that work exactly?
What Eric was alluding to is that it's in the best interest of mobile operators, content developers and application providers like us, to make sure that everyone who wants a mobile device has one. Unlike the traditional Internet, the mobile market is based on a well-defined ecosystem. Mobile operators set pricing on content and provide access. Device makers select operating systems. And then you have service providers like Google that offer applications.
So the entire ecosystem will have to figure out different ways to get mobile devices into users' hands. It won't be just mobile advertising. But the market is still nascent, so we don't know what it will be yet.