iPhone

iPhone apps are Google's biggest threat in mobile search

Google created the Andoid mobile OS because it wants its search engine to remain relevant as the world migrates more toward mobile computing. But Google's biggest challenge in mobile search is not other search engines or platforms, it's apps -- particularly iPhone apps.

When I filled up the iPhone with mobile apps as part of my recent experiment, one of the first apps that I downloaded and put on the iPhone home screen was the Google app. Since Google is the home page on all the PCs and laptops that I work on, I assumed my behavior on the iPhone would be similar to the computer. I was wrong.

Once I downloaded a fleet of useful iPhone apps, I quickly discovered that I used Google far less on the iPhone than I do on a computer - even over Wi-Fi, and even when doing many of the same activities. That is partly due to the fact that mobile search needs to improve, but it is also do to the nature of the smartphone itself.

When I'm sitting at a computer, I typically use Google at least 2-3 times per hour. It's usually the first place I go to get information. Google is not as much of a sleuth as it is a concierge. For example, when I'm pulling up a site, I often don't use a bookmark or type the URL into the address bar. It's just quicker to open my home page (Google) and type in the company name. This behavior is a bit lazy, but it's effective because it's the path of least resistance.

However, the opposite is true on smartphones -- especially the iPhone with so many specialized apps and no qwerty keyboard. In my tests with the iPhone, I discovered that Google is usually my last resort for finding information. In fact, I typically only use Google search 2-3 times per day from the iPhone.

Typing is just not as fast on a smartphone (even with the full qwerty keyboard on BlackBerry). Pointing, scrolling, and selecting are all much easier and quicker. As a result, many of the things that I would usually do with a Google search from my computer, I do through an app on the iPhone. For example:

  • Instead of looking up a business address on Google, I use the universal White Pages app on the iPhone
  • Instead of looking up a local business category (e.g. "Computer recycling") in Google, I use the Yellow Pages app, which will even automatically calculate my location via GPS, if I allow it
  • Instead of looking up a local taxi company when I'm traveling, I can use the Taxi Magic app on the iPhone (again, it will automatically get my location from GPS if I allow it)
  • Instead of looking up local restaurants in Google, I can use the Yelp iPhone app
  • Instead of searching for the professional credentials of a business associate on Google and being unsure if the results will have pages that might not work well on a smartphone, I can use the Linkedin or Facebook iPhone apps to do a quick people search.
  • Instead of using news aggregators like Google News and Techmeme - which I tend to use on my PC - on the iPhone I usually go straight to news sites with strong iPhone apps or pages, such as AP News, Reuters, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and MoneyWatch (a CBS sister site to TechRepublic).

The last example points to one of the reasons why mobile apps trump mobile search. With mobile search you don't always know whether the stuff you click on in the search results will be viewable or functional on your smartphone. But if you have a mobile app or site that's designed for that smartphone then you can be relatively confident that a search using that app will quickly return results (and links) that are optimized for a smartphone.

There's also another factor. The limited screen size and computing capacity of smartphones force developers to make their apps laser-focused on a specific task. This automatically guards against feature-creep and makes most apps simpler and faster to use. As a matter of fact, there are some sites and services where I prefer their iPhone apps or pages to their Web sites because the smartphone version is much more focused, easier to navigate, and faster.

For more insights on Google, iPhone, and other tech topics, follow my Twitter stream at twitter.com/jasonhiner

As I've been conducting my iPhone apps experiment I've also noticed that I'm starting to reach for the smartphone instead of the laptop more often, even when I'm in fixed locations such as conference rooms or even at home. The instant-on access, portability, and growing library of quality iPhone apps are all factors driving this behavior.

No matter how you look at it, these trends add up to bad news for Google in mobile search because it translates into fewer people needing its search engine. And the mobile trends are accelerating. According to comScore, U.S. users who access the mobile Web from a smartphone on a daily basis jumped from 10.8 million in January 2008 to 22.4 million in January 2009.

"This underscores the growing importance of the mobile medium as consumers become more reliant on their mobile devices to access time-sensitive and utilitarian information," said Matt Donovan, senior vice president of mobile at comScore.

There's also big business associated with mobile search. ABI Research sees mobile advertising ramping up at a time when most other advertising mediums are declining. In terms of mobile search specifically, ABI Research sees the market expanding from $813 million in 2008 to $5 billion by 2013.

"While mobile search incorporates more contextually relevant information such as location," said ABI Research director Michael Wolf, "consumers will increasingly look to search as a way to discover content and pertinent information that could drive purchasing behavior. Providers that can supply the most applicable solutions tailored toward mobile users will ultimately win in the marketplace."

Right now, specialized apps are providing a much more tailored experience than mobile search portals like Google and Yahoo. I believe Google realizes what's at stake and the trends that are working against it - at least partially - and that's why it has developed its own mobile platform with the Android OS.

Nevertheless, Android is fighting an uphill battle against the iPhone and its growing momentum in mobile applications. Plus, Android will have to battle RIM's BlackBerry platform and Palm's new webOS platform Both RIM and Palm already have a strong legacy of building a platform ecosystem for developers, an area where Android has struggled so far, even with its open source appeal.

The bottom line is that I fully expect smartphones to become the most widespread global computing platform in the next five years, driven heavily by the developing world, where the smartphone will be the primary PC for the majority of users. And as smartphones become more dominant, it is going to naturally migrate some power and influence away from search (and Google) and toward mobile computing applications.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

32 comments
elrader
elrader

Jason I agree with everything you're saying, but the kinds of things you're talking about apply to a very small section of the world's population. Yes, you don't use goog a lot on your iphone, but what about the *Billions* of people in the world that will never see an iphone, but will see a low cost handset that uses Android? iphone apps are meaningless to a vast majority of the world. Like you said, those people will come online but they most certainly won't be using iphone apps, nor would they be looking for restaurant reviews close to their location (at least not right away(. They'll be using the web in its most basic fashion and exploring the world of information, and goog will be the main portal for them.

gdgtgrl
gdgtgrl

One doesn't have to use the browser or type to find things with Google's iPhone app. While I'm not using the browser on my iPhone to search, I am finding that I'm using Google app a lot. Yesterday for instance, I was trying to find my way to my old family church in a small town I haven't lived in since I was in elementary school. I used the Google app to get the address of the church then directions with Google Maps. The voice feature didn't work because I didn't have the name of the church exactly right but I was still able to get the information while waiting for the light to change. I wouldn't count Google out just yet.

lilywei
lilywei

Depend on what you want to do when you only have iPhone and no computers. If apps can do it quicker than Google, I will use iPhone apps. However, if I am doing something completely new, I will use Google. Maybe we need another type of Google(new search tool/site) for iPhone and smart phones to identify the best apps for the issue you try to solve. i.e. GPS, locate people, etc. Then, users will stick with the apps that fit their purpose in the future. If that is true, it will make using Google less and less on smart devices.

hardeep21
hardeep21

I use the google map search very often. Comparable to the number of time i use google on my desktop. I think many people don't know how to use it effectively... I taught to some of non-tech background friends, on how to use this app and they love it .....

jay.liew
jay.liew

I think that eventually there will be too many niche apps, and there will be value in aggregating all those in a focal point. What is Google's search engine but a one-stop location to find stuff on OTHER people's web sites? As it is, I am currently using Google's mobile iPhone app a lot to search my local iPhone contacts, etc. I think that as of today, it looks like if anybody is going to be that mobile one-stop location to find stuff (even if it's in other mobile apps), Google is the best positioned. As more mobile apps show up serving the many vertical niches, the value of aggregation will increase. Jay Liew http://times.jayliew.com http://twitter.com/jaysern

Bill Day
Bill Day

Much as I love, love, love my iPhone, when it comes to "real" work--extensive writing, intensive research--I am not going to be doing it on a cell phone. Anecdotally speaking, it also appears that many iPhone applications work in tandem with the web -- and often with Google -- so I think maybe Google need not be too worried yet. Good article, though.

CDMichaels
CDMichaels

Please spell check your stories before you post them; you mispelled Android TWICE!

george.hickey
george.hickey

I have a Nokia 5800 and use Google search a fair bit - I don't have the same wealth of apps available to me so that's one reason, but I find the input on the 5800, either the full-screen QWERTY or the handwriting recognition, to be relatively quick - admittedly nowhere near as quick as a full size keyboard. I too have found myself reaching for my phone, particularly at home, rather than a laptop or firing up the desktop - it is so much more handy than waiting for another machine to boot. I think they are the way of the future but I wouldn't count out Google just yet, at least not on non-iPhone platforms.

rty
rty

Another question, aren't most of those apps using Google API? I think they are and this still makes Google the major service/data/content provider. Plus even with iPhone people still widely use Google Mail, Google Maps, YouTube. So, it's not all too bad for Google.

hlongworth
hlongworth

What you say may be true if you're an iPhone user without a good keyboard, but with my G1 Android and its great slide out keyboard I beg to differ. Everyone I've spoken to who uses an iPhone for work complains about the iPhone's lack of a physical keyboard - which strongly suggests one of the most practical things for Apple to do next if they're serious about the business market. And if you're using a Google Android phone then you're really hooked into Google - because you're using the device to sync your email, calendar and contacts through to GMail (and of course search from the home screen or straight from the search button..) Can I suggest you try playing with an Android in parallel to your iPhone to get a comparison? But to be honest if you're tied to an Exchange server (which you've indicated before) and not into the "cloud" you're probably not going to get the benefit of the Google monopoly :) I've foudn Android and the associated Google solutions/apps the ideal solution for small business who need cheap, flexible platforms and don't want to pay the Microsoft tax on IT.. Just my 2 bits..

airmanchairman
airmanchairman

Maybe. But the mobile app research and statistics agencies like AdMob and Pinch Media would have to be consulted to validate this theory. Only those agencies that can trawl the web for statistical data (ironically including Google itself) can tell us how many times the Google app is invoked per handset for search purposes. The free app genre (which Apple is discouraging) depends on advertising to generate developer revenue, and this may also be a factor in weakening Google's influence, although I wouldn't bet on it. The omnipresent Google search mini-bar in mobile Safari (not to mention almost every other browser on almost every other platform) tells a different story however, and suggests that the search giant will have a finger in every pie for many years to come.

Sarnath
Sarnath

This article makes very much sense. Also, if we couple a SAAS delivery model to Smartphones, then we can even have a super-computer horsepower inside our palms!

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

I think Google's mobile search will get better, but the nature of smartphone gives apps a natural advantage. I'm just saying there will be a power-shift toward apps on smartphones and Google won't be as strong on smartphones as it is on the PC. But, it will definitely still be a player. Google Maps is the exception on smartphones, but remember that Google has derived all of its money from search ads. That is its main business and anything that undermines that will have a significant impact on Google.

mnm2803
mnm2803

I personally own an iPhone and must say I rarely use Google to perform any searchs. With all the iPhone applications on the market Google is becoming a less frequent tool to use when searching on an iPhone. The Commonwealth Bank has even made an application for Netbank to use on the iPhone. For the moment Google is great to use on a desktop or notebook with full-size keyboards, for the iPhone applications are the way to go and will continue to become a growing threat to Google in mobile search, as the iPhone continues to advance.

gdgtgrl
gdgtgrl

Most of these apps are simply specialized queries using Google's API. I'm glad someone mentioned it.

sagar.bhate
sagar.bhate

Two points actually : 1. The lack of physical key board is keeping me from accessing the internet over the smart phone. In fact whenever possible i switch back to the laptop to access the internet, and on the laptop as you said Google is the home page. 2. The other point is that whenever i need to access the internet over a mobile network, the speeds are painfully slow. Am waiting egarly for the rollout of the 3g network which is promising to give high speed internet access over mobile networks.

jebz
jebz

You wrote: "The bottom line is that I fully expect smartphones to become the most widespread global computing platform in the next five years, driven heavily by the developing world, where the smartphone will be the primary PC for the majority of users." Either you don't live in a developing world (which of course is true) or you have not been to one. I am from Asia and I am also an iPhone app developer. The following are some of the reasons why the gist of your article will not hit bottom in Asia, or as you say developing world. 1. Smartphones' exorbitant price. A US$300 and above price tag won't get mass appeal. Asians are text messaging (SMS) lovers so they may not need those other smartphones features. Only a fraction of the mobile users have smartphones. 2. 3G internet access' exorbitant cost. In my country the cost for an internet access using iPhone is very very high. So what do we do? We turn off 3G and change the provider's APN in iPhone. Many iPhone users in my country were surprised by the sudden increase in their mobile billing (including mine). Many iPhone apps (both by Apple and 3rd party apps) are notorious in accessing the internet through cellular network even when you're not doing anything (or maybe forgot you have 'clicked' or set something). So since my last exorbitant bill, I became a WIFI only iPhone user--that is, if there's a free one nearby. Given above reasons, I wonder now how your prediction would become true in the developing world in the next five years? Your Google vs iPhone app is a non-issue at this time for most of us. Let them lower the price of the mobile hardware as well as the 3G fees first, then let's talk about your article again. So for now, leave us developing world with our low cost and sometimes free text messaging.

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

The industry vendors have always tried market dominance through to being either closer to the data/data source or higher up in the solution food chain. For example, the Manager of Managers (MOM) concept was always a crude trick to gain monopolistic control of the system management infrastructure in exchange for ease of use and increased span of control of IT into other areas of the business such a LOB process monitoring and control. In this case, we see an unusual new end user phenomenum. The end user is willing to scale back the initial greater promise of the device in exchange for immediate fulfillment of the requirement by the IT device. The user let their mind be cluttered by doing the initial triage in exchange for simplicity, less device use and a more narrowed search. The user is actually conceding that he/she will do the initial needs focus triage (restaurants, etc.)in exchange for mobility and acceptance of the data entry limitations of the device. The end user also accepts not getting tangential information associated with the request which may sometimes be key to the decision (like a generic request on a restaurant address on a laptop with traditional google could yield that there was a breaking news item about Hepatitis or food poisoning today at the restaurant!) This has profound effects for the industry and may hurt the more device industry more than google. If I can't deliver ads and tangential information, sponsors may choose to charge more for mobile access yet deliver it cheaper on traditional platforms. Since its tougher to enter data, suveyors may choose not to use mobile devices for surveys and feedback and charge the mobile user that once deferred expense versus laptop users. I think it will temporarily adversely affect SAAS, but I doubt for long. I think the mobile device manufacturers will quickly focus on improving display and input methods just like they did with the old generic PC. As the laptop users and fixed platform users get the probable financial breaks, this will force the mobiles to fix these shortcomings. Anyone who doesn't agree needs only to review the history of ethernet, which (and still is) continuously a labor of geek love with short term market demand fixes and improvements as the base technology continues to answer the needs of the marketplace.

cchaffold
cchaffold

In my opinion...(Proud G1 user) Smartphones serve well as an "extension" of the PC experience.Apps are useful, but when it comes to real querying, where do you go?(Google) Finding restaraunts,taxis, & news with an app is nice, but only scratches the surface of the near infinite amount of knowledge available on the internet.How many apps does it take to match the power of Google? Google may not view smartphones as a threat,but as an opportunity.(Hence,Android) A full QWERTY keyboard on a smartphone is optimal. The increase in the size of the device is marginal & the benefits are vast."Soft" keyboards are nice,but "Hard" keyboards are best. PC power in a handheld device,full\high speed internet,QWERTY keyboard. The combination of all of these things make a truly "Smart" phone. But...Who wants to stare at a 3" screen "all" of the time? (not me) Everything doesn't have to be replaced, some things can co-exist. My 10 cents, PC\Laptop\Smartphone\Google user

notmyjacket
notmyjacket

It seems to me like there is going to get to where there are as many iphone/g1/palm apps as there are web pages. Then how will you find the app you want? It will be as much of a problem as finding the web page you want. I can't imagine the pay per app model lasting forever, people don't pay to use each web page they like to use, do they? I think people are going to tire of searching for and buying new apps, and go back to using the web again, and developers will get better at designing websites and services for mobile use.

airmanchairman
airmanchairman

I suppose we can all only speak for ourselves and our subjective experiences, but all this talk about a touch keyboard being a hindrance to mobile web surfing points to either laziness and resistance to change, a lack of genuine curiosity to resolve a query, or more likely, product partisanship and "fanboyism". These are the last things on my mind when I realise that I can quickly resolve a highly interesting line of inquiry while on a train, bus, railway platform or a shopping mall far away from my PC or laptop.. a few taps and I'm suddenly heading in the right direction, armed with the right info. Hell, Google and Yahoo have even provided highly usable voice query search for the lazy amongst us, and some mobile apps actually allow you to scan product bar-codes with your camera and come up with instant price comparisons that can be related to your geographical area (again if you're too lazy to type in the barcode manually). Get out of your graves, guys, everybody's dancing in the streets (Jimi Hendrix)...

clay
clay

Sure, smartphones are $300 and up...for the most current model. But how about for older models? Used devices? Or the new ultra-cheap laptops and tablets that India has been furiously working on? Sure, the iPhone 4S won't be the device of choice in the developing world. But the trickle-down devices (many of them running open-source Android) most certainly will. And that will take computing power to the developing world in ways that a desktop or laptop never could.

mailboweb
mailboweb

..more lifestyle focus and iPhone experience then real life search. But I can not see why Google can't make there apps focus on these aswell.. Isn't there search suggestion in these iPhone Google apps, like in the browser. I suppose an Chrome browser for the iphone is out of the question. Maybe an good place to start an other browser war. Internet Explorer on the Iphone app store. Don't get me wrong, there is no need for google to have it all. I suppose it is all just to small and to slow to read and brows trough all those pages. Where when on the PC, you have an overall view of the page, that in most cases is enough to get the idea, and move on.. I am an PDA user for many years and browsing is just something handy but time consuming on these confining screens and controls. Keeping distance from the devices is still key in using them in the open.. When they finally decide to start developing decent goggles, holographics or projectors, I will be the first to buy them.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

You actually hit the nail on the head with your comment, "Everything doesn't have to be replaced, some things can co-exist." I'm suggesting that Google will not be the dominant information query mechanism that it is today as more users spend more computing time on the smartphone. Google will have to co-exist with specialized mobile apps (not to mention real-time people search like Twitter and Facebook).

mikedr810
mikedr810

This reply is totally hilarious. "I can't imagine the pay per app model lasting forever..." Your assumption may be right, but only in the regards that more and more apps might become free. The model of apps for iPhone isn't going away though buddy. Not at all. I have almost 8 pages of apps and I haven't bought a single one. And I never get tired of searching for and downloading FREE apps. I believe most, if not all, of the apps mentioned in this blog are free or at least offer free versions. I'm guessing by your lack of knowledge of iPhone applications you probably have not owned, or even talked to someone who has an iPhone. Most people I know love all the free apps. I'm not paying for a website, and I'm not paying for apps. This article couldn't be more dead on. I believe you must own a black berry and are afraid of the future for your device. By the way I can check email on my iPhone, too, so we have alot in common. The good apps that people do pay for are probably more business specific, which is no different than you buying software that accomodates your needs. I honestly believe you'll see MORE paid apps as companies open their eyes are develop quality mobile versions of their products. Even then they will probably offer free versions that tie into their enterprise applications. I hope you don't work in a management level of any tech company. Your paradigm thoughts would squash any forward thinking company's initiatives.

wdewey@cityofsalem.net
wdewey@cityofsalem.net

You obviously find a physical keyboard easier to use or you would call everyone that wants one lazy. Personally I don't jog to work because I am lazy. Do you jog to work since your not "lazy"? I have problems getting my phone to recognize names in my address book when there is no background noise. If I started using that to do searches then how many hours a week would I waste trying to get the phone to actually search for what I want? Bill

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

The connectivity is there, the performance is there, but the packaging has gone beyond the ergonomic capabilities of the user (and I say user, not human because we may have soon devices built for other types of living beings or pseudo-cyber beings, like putting a bomb detector on a spider but let's not go there for this thread). In this instance, either the mobile device must temporarily transform itself into a better data entry and visualization unit (browser or device display/keyboard)or the application (Google, in this case as well as the server)must accomodate the device as well as the user and even possibly even the end user environment (noise in the background, etc). There's even a demographic angle to this, since older users with the more money have naturally less hearing capabilities and Presbyopia on the visual side. Historically speaking, reducing capability never wins out in the market, so reducing Google or other SAAS might be a temporary, but not winning play (remember WAP?). The winning play is somehow to make such a small device temporarily more like a full size information delivery vehicle automatically adjusted and customized to the user, their immediate need and the environment where it is operating.

ptorr
ptorr

I too enjoy today's technological wonders.., I just have the perspective that all these things are simply "Tools" when used wisely serves us all well... For me the best part of technology is the challenge to not let it consume us completely. I still have not decided which way to go.., whether it is the "iPhone 3G" or some other "Smartphone".., I think will hold off until sometime before fall. The business email capabilities are important for me and what I do for a living so I imagine that will be a major factor for me in the end... Alright everybody.., you all have a great week... Later

chris
chris

that Google will find a way to infiltrate and/or dominate this market as well. Some ultra suite of free Google on the Go apps or something.

rroy
rroy

Thank you ptorr for pointing this out. We are not here to bash someone's opinion on a specific topic. I'm on here to learn from others opinions on the topic at hand. Let's all stay focused on helping each other out and giving constructive responses and keep this forum clean from hate mail.

ptorr
ptorr

This form of communication seems to indicate the demise of humanity in today's society.., where people feel more more comfortable at not actually communicating face to face and prefer the Techno Toy Solutions... One could easily get their point across without being condescending or otherwise negative. I find that human beings/ people are much more receptive when the responses are constructive, positive and educational in nature... Afterall is that not what we are all striving for.., knowledge and wisdom ?!?

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