Ask.com readies search services for U.S. cell phones

IAC/InterActiveCorp.'s Ask.com has developed a set of browser-based search services for mobile devices that lets users find Web sites, directions to places, images, maps, business listings and weather information.

People will also be able to find area codes, check time zones and call up horoscope entries, as well as convert currencies. The company will increase this initial set of services to include others it currently only offers to PC users.

The move is the latest by a major Internet search provider to extend its services to cell phones and other mobile devices. Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and others also offer mobile search services.

People's desire to use search engines from cell phones is growing rapidly, as handsets and wireless Internet connections become cheaper and more powerful.

The convenience of accessing search services via mobile devices is an obvious one, even if the technical barriers are only recently starting to fall. It's clearly useful for people to call up a search engine to seek product information if they are at a store or to obtain driving directions while on the road.

The mobile market is nascent and as such represents a new frontier and opportunity, as opposed to the PC-based search market dominated by Google. In August, Google handled 44 percent of all U.S. queries, according to comScore Networks Inc. Yahoo came in a distant second place with almost 29 percent. Ask.com ranked fifth with 5.5 percent.

Ask.com's mobile search services are slated to go live on Thursday at http://mobile.ask.com and should be accessible from any device in the U.S. with a mobile browser and with unrestricted access to the Web, said Doug Leeds, Ask.com's vice president of product management.

Ask.com reformats all the Web pages it links to from its results so that they will be rendered properly on a mobile screen, Leeds said.

The Ask.com mobile services include advanced features like automatically generated alternate queries to narrow or expand the scope of the search. Ask.com also delivers along with the results a list of names related by topic to the query.

Ask.com is also providing its "smart answers" feature, which consolidates information from various sources in a single entry at the top of the results list.

The services are free and don't include ads, but carriers may apply charges related to the Internet connection and data transmission, he said.

Although Ask.com isn't making money from these services, it developed them because demand for them is high and it wouldn't be serving its users well if it didn't offer mobile access to its search engines, Leeds said.

One mobile search area in which Ask.com still lacks representation is in the text message space. For example, Google allows users to tap into some of its search engines by sending a text query to the company from a mobile device.

Ask.com may consider providing text-message searching if it determines there is enough demand for it, Leeds said. For now, people need a device with a mobile browser to access the Ask.com search engines.

People who visit Ask.com's mobile search page will also find a link to its Bloglines syndicated feed reader, which has had a mobile version for a while.

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