Microsoft has been powering the search box on Sprint for awhile now, and the companies have had a public, strategic relationship since last November. But this evening they announced some new enhancements and mobile services. There are essentially two things being introduced: location-aware mobile search and a rich client download (voice local search) powered by Tellme. Microsoft acquired Tellme in March of this year.
First Sprint and Microsoft are promoting what they’re calling the “first fully integrated GPS location-aware mobile search service with entire internet search on Sprint phones.” The GPS part is actually cell-tower triangulation, but it amounts to the same thing from a consumer perspective. Location is passively identified, saving the user from having to enter it with every query.
Consumers will also get access to Microsoft-powered “federated search results” (Web, local, ringtones, etc.) via the Sprint search box. There’s initial co-branding but local and other mobile search data on subsequent screens carry the Microsoft Live Local brand. Initial monetization will be from national AdCenter advertisers (mobile banners essentially) on a CPM basis. Later, local and other geotargeted advertisers will be integrated. Separately, Microsoft’s Live Local WAP-based search is monetized with Ingenio PPCall advertisers. Online (at Live Local/Maps), Microsoft has a partnership with Superpages, which is the primary source of local advertisers on that site.
As a separate, parallel piece of this announcement the companies are promoting a rich client application powered by Tellme. Dubbed “voice search by Live Search for mobile,” it’s a Java-based app for most Sprint phones, but not Windows Mobile-powered smartphones (ironically). This is very much like Tellme by Mobile, which has a voice interface that yields a rich graphical output (listings, maps, etc.). Sprint and Microsoft are touting this as the first application with GPS-enabled voice search capabilities.
Here are some screens of what the interface looks like:
In this role as local search infrastructure provider and carrier enabler, Microsoft is in competition with companies like Medio and JumpTap, which offer some of the same search and monetization capabilities to operators on a white-label basis. But it may ultimately be a model for other carrier relationships with branded search providers.
Carriers risk being marginalized as the proverbial “dumb pipe” unless they can offer competitive services and content; and partnerships, whether with white label vendors or branded search engines and portals, are essential. While financial arrangements of the Microsoft-Sprint partnership aren’t public I would guess that ultimately Sprint is going to get a share of ad revenues generated via mobile search.
The application and services are “free” to those with a Sprint data plan. (Separately Sprint has a WiMax partnership with Google.)