Of the big three search engines, one could argue that Google is directing the most focused, ongoing effort toward mobile. Clearly Yahoo and Microsoft see mobile as a critical part of their business but Google is more or less continually doing things that seek to improve the mobile user experience.
First, of course, there’s Android itself. And then there are Android apps like Places Directory (a local search app minus the search part). There’s also the effort to improve and expand Voice Search and Latitude. There are the recent upgrades to GMail and iGoogle that make the mobile browser experience much more like a native smartphone application. There’s the recent expansion of Google’s Content Network (display ads) for mobile, as well as Google’s own display advertising for its iPhone app. I could go on for some time with items like this.
The most recent improvement is the expansion of “Universal Search” for so-called feature phones in more countries. According to the Google Mobile Blog:
[W]e’ve also launched the new experience for feature phones in the US and in Japan. Today, we’re happy to announce that the new format is available on all device models in over 60 countries and 38 languages.
Specifically that means:
- When available, News, Images, Blog, Video and Product Search results are blended right into your result page.
- Many of your favorite Google Search features now appear in the first result to provide direct answers to your searches.
- We continue to optimize specific results for mobile, so local listings for restaurants in London, for example, provide easy-to-select phone number links.
These changes seek to minimize the gap between the user experience on smartphones vs. lower-end devices and make it more consistent. While it can never be truly equivalent, because of the speed, screen size and processing power of smartphones, the chasm can be diminished somewhat.
An improved feature-phone experience means more search volume from those devices. It also means that Google can train mobile users on low-end phones (roughly 85 percent of the market) to search (and search with Google) and then when they eventually upgrade to smartphones the habit will already be established. Surveys offer different predictions but a recent survey I conducted via Local Mobile Search found that roughly 20 percent of non-smartphone users planned to upgrade in the next year.
According to Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s, recent “Founders’ Letter“:
Today, almost a third of all Google searches in Japan are coming from mobile devices — a leading indicator of where the rest of the world will soon be.
That statement says it all and explains why Google is putting so much emphasis and effort into mobile.