March 10, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Local mobile search? Hold the phone
Using a mobile device and SMS, or Short Message Service, wireless customers can now get directions to nearby restaurants and other information from the curb. Analysts say that's a potent combination, not only for consumers, but for the fast-growing Web search business.
"The next killer app on the phone is going to be local search," said Stephen Baker, head of emerging applications at Fast Search & Transfer, an enterprise search company.
Mobile search has been around for several years, largely through WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) or browser-enabled devices. But those services have yet to take off with consumers, largely because of technology limitations, fees or lack of widespread adoption of enhanced phones.
Using a mobile device and SMS, wireless customers can now get directions to nearby restaurants and other information on the fly, a potent combination, not only for consumers, but for the fast-growing Web search business.
Players big and small are racing to provide local search on mobile phones via text messaging--a concept that could drive major changes in search advertising.
Many executives believe the time is now right to strike with new search services for wireless devices, specifically text. That's because wireless usage is soaring--more than 200 million people in the United States own a cell phone. And as many as 50 billion text messages will be sent this year--making it a $2 billion industry, according to IDC.
Google, Fast Search, Yahoo, America Online and UpSnap.com are among those eyeing various pieces of the market. Google and Yahoo, for example, are examining and testing mobile devices as a way to extend their search franchises and potentially boost revenues.
In the opposite corner, yellow pages and directory services companies are angling to protect their businesses and advertiser relationships as more people grow accustomed to using new technologies for search. Cell phone carriers also are assessing Internet directory and search services as potential new revenue drivers.
In the latest sign of growing interest in mobile search, upstart 4Info is expected to announce a $7.5 million funding round from U.S. Ventures.
San Mateo, Calif.-based 4Info lets cell phone subscribers use a so-called U.S. short code--a string of five numbers sanctioned by major