Report: Google developing mobile content search tool

Google is developing a new search tool for mobile phones

Google is developing a new search tool for cell phones that will allow users to find and purchase mobile content, including ring tones and games, according to a published report.

Google has been working for months with content providers such as "large entertainment companies and smaller mobile-media aggregators" to make their material available through a mobile search, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

In an e-mail to Computerworld, a Google spokesman said the company doesn't comment on market rumor or speculation.

According to the Journal, mobile users would go to Google to search for content, such as a particular ring tone and would be provided with links to providers where the ring tone could be purchased. Eventually, the Journal said, Google would charge companies for "high placement in the search results."

Google is also looking at including a social-networking piece that would let users of its e-mail service, called Gmail, exchange content, according to the Journal. However, the project has been hampered by a number or technical glitches, the newspaper said.

Analysts were mixed on whether Google would succeed in such a venture.

"Google is biting off a lot in developing a search tool for mobile content, but it's a meal they know, and I'd bet on them to succeed," said Kathy Sharpe, CEO of Sharpe Partners, a New York marketing and consulting firm. "It's when they get into the commerce arena where they've been less successful, where problems will hit."

Sharpe said it's not clear how Google will partner or compete with the telecommunications companies.

"This is another example of Google stretching out beyond the world of search, even beyond their stated mission of 'organizing all the information in the world,' and this time, it's into a high-stakes, complicated commerce arena where nobody wants to give an inch. It will be interesting," Sharpe said.

Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, said, "Given that Google wants to be the New Age media giant of the world, it needs to move toward mobile devices, since in sheer numbers, the market will be massive -- translated as, 'substantial revenue opportunity for the right engine.'"

However, Gold said he's not so sure that ring tones and media is the way to go. In the longer term, he said, Google wants to be the mobile commerce engine for a host of features. Searching for something on a cell phone is currently a frustrating experience when compared with searching on a PC with a broadband hookup, so a good search engine designed for the smaller screens, relatively slow speeds and access methods of cell phones is imperative, he said.

"[Google] is starting with ring tones and media because that is fairly well understood, and there is a market for it," Gold said. "Long term, why couldn't I use Google to buy theater tickets or make dinner reservations?"

Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner, said search on a small device is "problematic."

"Ask yourself why when WAP [Wireless Application Protocol] browsing and SMS [Short Messaging Service] started some 10 or more years ago, SMS won and WAP browsing went nowhere," Dulaney said. "Sure it's better today, but we should have seen some movement. What is a better approach is to alert users of important things by e-mail with an embedded URL and then let them browse."

He added that if Google plans a mobile portal, it would be better than the offerings from mobile operators.

"Just as Apple has circumvented the operator, others like Google will too. And that's a good thing. The mobile operators just don't do a good job," Dulaney said.

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