By Charlene Li
Yahoo! already offers extensions of its popular Web-based services like Yahoo! Mail and Messenger. The company announced today that they will provide local, image, and Web search on mobile devices.
Of the three, local search is the most compelling. Users can look up a business (for example, a pizza shop), call the phone number from the search results, and best of all, get a map and driving directions.
But why would someone bother with this when they can simply call 411 to get the same information? It turns out that on the Web, about a quarter of all yellow pages searches are category specific – meaning that there’s no specific business name. So if you’re driving to a meeting and want to eat a slice, 411 calls can’t help you, but potentially Yahoo! Local Search via mobile can (presumably, you’d pull over first).
Driving directions are a godsend – especially if you have your locations stored on Yahoo! Maps. But here’s the catch – it’s highly unlikely that you’d be actually at one of those locations – because you’re doing this all on your phone. If were actually at home, work, or your parents’ house, you would probably access the information via the Web. This means that any driving direction information would require slow, painful typing of the current location. Eventually, I expect Yahoo! to craft a partnership with wireless providers where location information is automatically fed into the search queries.
Overall, I believe that the true value of Yahoo! Local and also, of Yahoo! Web Search on mobile devices is tie-in back to Yahoo! The instances when you would actually need this type of information will be far and few between, but when you need it, lo and behold, Yahoo!’s there to provide it for you.
I can’t say though that I see the same value for Image Search on mobile devices. The example Yahoo! gave during their briefing with Forrester (Yahoo! briefed my colleague, Charles Golvin, who covers consumer wireless products and services -- this example was relayed to me via Charlie) was of someone sitting at a restaurant admiring the art on the walls, and doing an image search to see the artist’s other works. Hmmm…I can think of better ways to spend a nice dinner with someone than waiting for images to render on a small phone screen. There are few instances that I can think of where I couldn’t simply wait to get back to my computer to conduct an image search. But if you think otherwise, by all means, let me know!