Yahoo jumps ahead of Google on mobile phone search

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc. introduced on Monday a new Internet search system for mobile phone users that delivers locally relevant answers, a move that vaults it ahead of what rival Google Inc. now offers.

A screen grab of Yahoo's new mobile search feature. Yahoo Inc. introduced on Monday a new Internet search system for mobile phone users that delivers locally relevant answers, a move that vaults it ahead of what rival Google Inc. now offers. REUTERS/Yahoo/Handout

Starting in the United States, with international markets to follow later this year, the Sunnyvale, California-based company said it planned to take advantage of the inherently local nature of many Web searches performed on phones.

“We are now putting search on every mobile phone that has a browser,” said Marco Boerries, senior vice president of Yahoo’s Connected Life business unit. “We are delivering the results consumers want with just one search, not a list of Web links.”

Yahoo, which has been playing to catch up to Google in computer Web search, has been making strides in recent months to overtake its rival in the fast emerging mobile Web market.

As networks grow faster and most handsets now come with Web browsers, Internet companies are moving aggressively to bring search, e-mail, mapping and other familiar online services to phones. The mobile Web promises to offer a handier way than bulky computers for many consumers to connect to the Internet.

OneSearch, as Yahoo calls its mobile phone service, differs from how computer Web search delivers raw sets of links.

Instead Yahoo serves up a list of actual information, such as news headlines, images from Yahoo’s Flickr photos site, business listings, local weather and links to other Web sites.

Rather than showing popular movies or critical reviews, for example, Yahoo search lists local theaters playing a particular movie, user ratings of the film and news headlines related to the movie. Users only need to enter a zip code or city name for Yahoo oneSearch to begin delivering local search results.

Google takes a user several more steps to reach the same information as Yahoo oneSearch.

“This is not a knock on Google per se, but Yahoo has taken that a very specific starting point -- your town or neighborhood,” said Gartner analyst Mike McGuire. “The context of many mobile phone searches is going to be very local. That starting point is key, like road traffic in my area.”

The Internet media company said it has begun offering its oneSearch service on the 85 percent of existing U.S. mobile phones with Web browsers, expanding beyond deals it has with major handset makers to put Yahoo services directly on new and upcoming phones.

“We can now literally cover hundreds of millions of phones in the United States,” Boerries said.

Search results appear on a single page and are prioritized into categories, based on calculations Yahoo computers make about the kind of information the user is trying to make.

So far this year, Yahoo has signed deals to feature its Yahoo Go software, including the oneSearch service, with four of the world’s top five mobile handset makers: Nokia, Motorola Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. and LG Electronics Inc.

“The pace is something we are going to continue throughout the year,” Boerries said.

Yahoo promises to help a range of advertisers reach mobile phone customers as they search. Because searches take place on the phone, consumers can directly call the advertiser to do business with one click on a Web page.

OneSearch runs sponsored advertising tied to Web search results and display advertisements, or mini-banner ads designed for mobile phone screens.

“The latest version of Yahoo search is pretty darn good,” McGuire said. “The next question is how they drive revenue,” he said, adding that it may take several quarters before Yahoo sees any meaningful impact in its quarterly financial results.