I’ve long been critical of Google’s lack of “local” search focus. In particular, I think that they’ve missed a lot of opportunities to try and connect with local restaurants (no, not those with logos with you’d recognize – rather, those with food you’d remember), but it goes far deeper than just restaurants.
Google licensed Yelp content for some time, and even tried to acquire Yelp back in 2009 to try and fix things like this, and when that failed, Google apparently tried using Yelp’s content without approval, and Yelp accused Google of lifting their content.
Yesterday, I took a look at the newly released Bing for Mobile app on iPhone. It looks good, and provides a good face for Bing on the iPhone. Just for grins when a co-worker asked how well it worked for search on maps, I tried speaking “Find taco” into it – it did purport to have known my location. Don’t know why, but that’s what I thought of. Since then, I’ve been asking search engines everywhere, “Find taco”.
I then tested Siri on my co-worker’s iPhone 4S (still haven’t replaced my 4, yet). Siri is the only search engine that got it. While Bing and Google both think I’m asking about Taco Bell or Del Taco (neither of which, I contend, actually make tacos), or find restaurants nowhere near me, Siri did what I would hope. It pointed me to the recently opened, relatively popular, Milagro Cantina across the street from our offices (try the fish tacos!), and found several more restaurants as the scope moved farther away.
Some have contended that Apple missed the mark with Siri, that it can’t search “enough stuff”. I think Apple did the best possible thing they could have with Siri, and it mirrors the way Apple approaches everything else, constrained and minimalist, and beginning with the user first. It starts your search by, well, pretending the Internet doesn’t exist. It only goes to Google if you REALLY want it to, and it can’t find any other context for your request. It truly changes what “mobile search” means, and begins to really deemphasize the importance of other search engines on the iOS platform – or at least on the iPhone.
If you’re reading this, this generalization probably doesn’t apply to you. Like me, you probably treat Google as another lobe in your brain. But the reality is, most consumers don’t randomly search the Internet while mobile. No, they don’t. If they’re searching for something while mobile, odds are they either want to do something or find something geographically near where they are or where they will be soon, or perform some immediate action based upon information on their phone (Contacts, Calendar, E-Mail, Reminders, Notes, or Messages).
That’s why the combination of 1) Voice as the (hands free, relatively quick vs. typing) input mechanism. 2) Siri as the interpreter of your words. 3) The iPhone as the vehicle of your location, your persona data context and your Internet connection. 4) Most importantly, Apple’s seemingly constrained (but actually conscientious) choices of data sources for Siri are brilliant.
While Google, Bing, and every other Web search engine tries to find the parts of the infinitely expanding Web that are geographically near you, based on your location + their enormous indexes, or that could conceptually relate to products or services that you may be physically looking at at that time, Siri is working the other way – using Siri to parse your words, then starting with you and your location, and working through Yelp listings, your “data relationships” on your phone, as well as Wolfram Alpha and very finite data sources to see what is literally around you that may relate to your search. For reference, the sources Siri used to use prior to Apple are here – not sure how many continue today, but I believe the list could well be shorter, not longer.
Mobile search doesn’t begin with the Web. Mobile search begins with the user.
Update: Some have pointed out that depending on the entry point and/or the device used to get to Bing (the Tellme voice engine on WP7, for example), the results can be far more accurate than what I saw. On Bing for Mobile and the Bing Mobile Web site, the results returned still don’t return joy on my iPhone 4. It’s also very much the case that my quick, arbitrarily weak, statistically insignificant use case doesn’t provide a comprehensive test of either Siri (which has foibles – it isn’t perfect and can miss broad categories of queries, such as movie reviews in some cases), or the best examples of Bing or Google (which can definitely deliver good local searches in the right situations). I find that some of the blog posts I enjoy writing the most are done ad hoc, and released without me “sitting on them”. I did that with this yesterday night. I think that Microsoft has the right focus with Bing (as a “decision engine” rather than a “Web Search Engine”). For mobile search, the sources, the contextual processing of the query, and a consistent experience regardless of entrypoint mean everything. Without the context, and by throwing “what from the web matches this” at every query. I also think that Siri is most significant, and most damaging to Google in the long run simply because… It’s the new search verb on the iPhone – the new single-touch launch point to search what matters to you. You don’t Google on an iPhone 4S. You Siri.