The “Big Five” search engines that we have all grown to know and love have spawned some very unique and useful mobile features. Wired Internet users might not realize that such advancements are taking place in the mobile world, but the evolution of search interfaces has produced some extremely useful tools for the mobile user.
First off, let’s explore the current state of the mobile search engine market. The screenshots below are simply the home pages for each engine. Future posts will cover differences in search results, unique features and personalization options.
Google Mobile (http://m.google.com/m) mimics Big G’s minimalist approach to web search interface design. The ubiquitous search box dwarfs other links that provide the ability to personalize your homepage through iGoogle. In fact, if you sign in with your Google account it will pull modules from your web-based iGoogle page. The prominence of GOOG-411 highlights their voice-operated directory assistance and might encourage people to search by speaking rather than typing.
Yahoo! Mobile (http://us.m.yahoo.com/) balances simplicity with direct access to other valuable mobile resources such as Driving Directions, Mail, and News without cluttering the home page. The “oneSearch” box provides customized results based on the type of query. Examples include stock quotes, sports scores, airline flight status, and movie listings. For many geographically-specific queries, oneSearch returns smaller sets of local results, business categories, web results and mobile web results to help users narrow their searches.
MSN Mobile (http://mobile.msn.com/) continues their portal approach by providing a lot of content on the homepage, which could increase load times over slower wireless connections and incur additional costs if your data plan charges by the megabyte. After some digging, I can’t find a way to customize the layout or choose which modules to include or exclude. But given the amount of data presented by default, nobody will accuse them of showing not enough information, especially if that person cares about the weather in Redmond.
AOL Mobile (http://wap.aol.com/) also takes the portal approach by adding content and links to other AOL mobile web properties. My main concern with AOL’s interface is the image links to each of the products (email, MapQuest, etc). Many mobile browsers turn off images or have trouble rendering them in the intended way. Text links would seem to be the best approach to quickly and reliably get visitors to their intended destination. Horoscope information seems to be a stretch as well. Surely there are features or information that could occupy that space that will appeal to a larger audience.
Ask Mobile (http://m.ask.com/) maintains the web version’s simple, uncluttered interface and even adds a few links to their other mobile properties. Interestingly, there is no search box on the homepage itself. The “Web Search” feature is still a click away. The voice-activated driving directions seems interesting and will be explored in a future post.
I surf the mobile web from a Palm Treo 700p. Your mileage may vary, but I would be interested to know if the amount and types of content that are presented vary by device, browser or operating system. Leave a comment and tell me about your opinions on the mobile search engines, as well as ideas or questions for future posts.