Mobile search

Mobile search is an evolving branch of information retrieval services that is centered on the convergence of mobile platforms and mobile phones, or that it can be used to tell information about something and other mobile devices. Web search engine ability in a mobile form allows users to find mobile content on websites which are available to mobile devices on mobile networks. As this happens mobile content shows a media shift toward mobile multimedia. Simply put, mobile search is not just a spatial shift of PC web search to mobile equipment, but is witnessing more of treelike branching into specialized segments of mobile broadband and mobile content, both of which show a fast-paced evolution.

Market description

"Competition for the US mobile search market promises to be fierce, thanks to the large US online ad market and strong pushes by portals. By 2019, mobile ad spending will rise to $65.87 billion, or 72.2% of total digital ad spend", according to a leading market research firm; eMarketer.[1] Depending on a researcher's particular bias toward telecom, Web or technology factors, the published forecasts for global mobile search vary from $1.5 billion by 2011 (from Informa Telecoms & Media) to over $11 billion by 2008 (according to Piper Jaffray).[2]

Mobile search is important for the usability of mobile content for the same reasons as internet search engines became important to the usability of internet content. Early internet content was largely provided by portals such as Netscape. As the depth of available content grew, portals were unable to provide total coverage. As a result, Internet web search engines such as Google and AltaVista proved popular as a way of allowing users to find the increasingly specialist content they were looking for. In an international journal article, 'Exploring the logic of mobile search', Westlund, Gómez-Barroso, Compañó, and Feijóo(2011) outline a thorough review of research on mobile search usage, and also present an in-depth study of user patterns. They conclude that mobile search has started to change mobile media consumption patterns radically. They also emphasize that future developments of mobile search must be sensitive to the mobile logic.[3]


Within the broad umbrella of mobile search (the ability to browse for mobile specific content), there are a range of services. Given the relative immaturity of the market, not all of these can be expected to become the industry standards.

Mobile optimized search engines

Most major search engines have implemented a mobile optimized version of their products that take into consideration bandwidth and form factor limitations of the mobile platform. For example, Google has launched a mobile-friendly version of their search engine. The algorithms for mobile search engine results are thought to be evolving and aspects such as location and predictive searching will become increasingly important. Google just released its latest 160 page Full Search Quality Raters Guide[4] with a new emphasis on Mobile and Usefulness.

Mobile question and answer services

These services allow a user to text a question to a central database and receive a reply using text. A usage example would be a user that wants to know the answer to a very specific question but is not in front of his/her computer. Most mobile 'Q&A' services are powered by human researchers and are therefore a type of organic search engine. A new approach by AskMeNow and MobileBits is to use Semantic Web technology to automate the process.

This service is known by different names dependent on country and operator. It can also be known as 'Find My Nearest' or 'Mobile Yellow Pages' services. The basics of the services allow users to find local services in the vicinity of their current location. The services often use location-based technology to pinpoint exactly where the user currently is. An example of usage would be a user looking for a local cab or taxi company after a night out. Services also usually come with a map and directions to help the user. An example is the service offered by Yell in the UK which is powered by MobilePeople's technology.

Mobile discovery services

These services offer users recommendations on what they should do next. An example would be recommending a user a similar ringtone to the one that s/he has just browsed for. They operate, in a mobile context, in a similar way to the recommendation engines provided by internet retail shops such as An example of real usage is the Directory Enquiries (DQ) service operated by Orange in the UK. Callers to the Orange landline DQ service are given the business and residential numbers they have requested verbally by an operator. In addition, Orange sends the information in text format to the users mobile phone. The information contains a text reminder of the requested information as well as links to local businesses, services and other interesting information in the local area that the user has searched on.

Mobile navigation services

These services provide the indexing structure to the portals provided by mobile operators. They index the content already on the operators' portal but also provide users access to mobile specific content that is available outside the confines of the portal.

Dynamic mobile selection interface services

A new category of mobile search tool that is emerging is one in which a pre-selected set of possible search content is downloaded in advance by a mobile user and then allows for a final internet search step. An example of such search tools is the Worldport Navigator for the iPhone,[5] which provides users with a push-button experience of selecting from thousands of human-screened and categorized Web selections in three or four seconds, without the need for text entry, search, result review, or page-scrolling.


  1. "Mobile Will Account for 72% of US Digital Ad Spend by 2019".
  2. "The Search Wars Are Going Mobile".
  3. Westlund, Oscar; Gómez-Barroso, José-Luis; Compañó, Ramón; Feijóo, Claudio (2011). "Exploring the logic of mobile search". Behaviour & Information Technology.
  4. "Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines" How Search Works November 12, 2015.
  5. "Worldport Navigator for the iPhone".
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