The iPhone may have been outsold last quarter by Android, but Apple’s phone remains at least for the time being the “it device” in the smartphone market. Google and Microsoft are both, let’s say, “ambivalent” about the iPhone. And, in some ways, Google and Microsoft/Bing have changed places vis-a-vis the handset.
Of the three major search rivals Google was the first and arguably most direct beneficiary of the iPhone. As the default search provider for the iPhone, Google saw its US mobile query volumes grow significantly. And now with the added benefit of Android penetration, the company has translated its PC lead into mobile search leadership, even dominance. Though I’m somewhat skeptical of this, some estimates put Google’s mobile search share at near 100 percent.
As Apple and Google became more intense competitors across several market segments Google became less enthusiastic about the iPhone, culminating in some red-meat, Anti-Apple rhetoric at the Google Developer Conference earlier this year. As Mountain View has introduced new functionality on the Android platform it has sometimes held that back from the iPhone. The reasons cited are technical and procedural but my belief is that this is at least partly competitive too.
The two most prominent examples are Google Goggles and Google Navigation. Google Navigation is supposed to make its way to iPhone — eventually. Navigation was introduced in October of 2009. In a couple of months it will be a year since that event. As an Android EVO and heavy Google Navigation user I can say it’s an extremely useful product.
By comparison Google Goggles is a much less useful product than Navigation, in its current state. It rarely works for me in fact. (Amazon Remembers is more consistently successful in my experience.) Goggles has enormous potential, however. And “visual search” on smartphones is going to be increasingly important over time. Indeed, what’s now called “augmented reality” and “visual search” will become a single category (see also Nokia Point & Find).
This week’s Google acquisition of Like.com, combined with the earlier acquisition of Plink, suggest that Goggles will get much better in the near future. That near future also apparently includes the release of Goggles on the iPhone. According to an on-stage remark by Google engineer David Petrou, who was presenting on visual search at a conference at Stanford University yesterday, Goggles will be available for the iPhone by the end of the year.
If it can be said that Google has grown more ambivalent about the iPhone over time, Microsoft — at least the Bing team — has warmed to the device. Bing produced a really good iPhone app which was subsequently improved with a second release. The Wall Street Journal discusses how Microsoft and Bing recently stormed the app store with a flurry of Bing branded apps of different types:
A couple of weekends ago, the Bing name seemed to be everywhere on the top iPhone app charts. At one point, Microsoft says, there were seven programs bearing the Bing name in the top 26 most frequently downloaded free iPhone apps. Most of them were apps that give consumers access to popular music for free, with names like Pop 100 by Bing, Ryan Seacrest’s MixTapes by Bing and Bing Hip Hop 100.
Most of the apps were created by outside developers. Bing paid the developers a sponsorship fee to keep the music free for consumers, at least for a limited time. The one catch: in most cases, consumers had to also download Microsoft’s main Bing app –which the company released last last year and which is used for searching Bing –before using the free sponsored apps.
Bing is also about to release an Android client. Bing’s move beyond Windows Mobile to the iPhone, BlackBerry and soon Android reflects a kind of “cultural shift” within Microsoft to embrace competitive platforms for the broadest possible distribution for Bing. This is both an enlightened move and one born of necessity. If Bing wants to grow on mobile platforms it needs to go where the users are. The company is doing that as it awaits the launch of Windows Phones (the successor to Windows Mobile) later this year.
Previously one could have argued that Windows Mobile and Bing were joined at the hip. That’s no longer true. If Windows Phones are a hit, Bing will potentially reap the spoils — though Google will also pursue the platform. If Windows Phones don’t take off, however, Bing has now positioned itself so it can still succeed in mobile.