Can you remember the first time you used a search engine and what that experience was like? Even though the traditional approach to searching hasn’t changed much, there’s no doubt that the way we search has evolved drastically, especially in the last few years. Without even realising it, we are adjusting to entirely new ways of discovering content far beyond the search box.
For more than a decade, search has been about the same 10 blue links, but the user base is changing significantly. We’re marching towards a time when people in all markets will interact with the Web more frequently through connected devices — phones, tablets, televisions, consoles and beyond — than they will through personal computers.
The age of the PC as the predominant way for users to search the Internet will soon be behind us, and in some markets, it already is. Search is getting ready for the user experience divide that will be ushered in by the adoption of new devices.
Today, over 1 billion of the world’s more-than 4 billion mobiles phones are smartphones, and by 2014, mobile Internet usage is expected to overtake desktop Internet usage. Already, in 2011, more than 50 per cent of all “local” searches were done from a mobile device. Most of the next billion users coming online in the next decade will arrive through mobile devices. Most media consumption will be on mobile devices, and so will most communication, whether spoken or written.
Search is a core part of every mobile Web user’s experience, same as on desktop. But search on mobile devices is different from search on the desktop. Mobile searchers have a higher tendency to search with a local intent and a need for immediate gratification.
Instead of waiting for users to come to a search results page to enter a query, Internet companies are proactively fulfilling user content discovery needs by giving them answers for their queries. Search is evolving fast and in the next three to five years, the amount of innovation in search is going to be so large that search as a product will change dramatically.
The recent innovation deployed by a number of search engines aims to go beyond providing a search box along with content.
People searching on mobile devices have a more immediate intent. They use apps as a proxy for search. They look for the task at hand, and find an app that fits that need. The experience has become more vertical as people use it for shopping, local services, restaurants, points of interest, travel, music and so forth, which is quite different from Web search. It is much more contextual and location-driven.
Apps such as these are adding more and more smarts to the smartphones. With a few simple clicks, users can download an app of their choice and then customise their phones for specific needs such as entertainment, communication, shopping or even business.
The mobile search experience is now integrating mobile multimedia as well. Starting with keyword-based search and going through the step of voice search, now the end user is offered the functionality to capture a photo on his cellphone and find related information on the Internet.
Going forward, more complex searches and bigger transactions would become viable as technology advances and users become more comfortable using their mobile devices for searching. And so, there is ample room for innovation in how you can discover information on mobile devices.
(The author is vice-president, Connections, Yahoo Inc.)