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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 08:37 GMT 09:37 UK
Google targets mobile future
By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website

Mobile phone camera in use,
Mobiles are part of everyday life
If you use Google, the chances are that you search its index via the internet.

But the company's ambitions do not begin and end with its online presence. For some time now, it has been establishing ways for people to use its roster of services via mobile devices.

The man in charge of the Google mobile mission is Dipchand "Deep" Nishar. He believes that when people are out and about, they want very different answers from Google than they would if they were sat in front of a PC.

For instance, he said, the first result that comes up after typing "film" into a PC browser is the Internet Movie Database.

"But type 'films' into a mobile browser and you are most likely going to see a movie," he told the BBC News website.

Handy helper

"The same search query, because of the context, means very different search results," said Mr Nishar. "Search on mobiles is about finding not browsing.

"It's a smaller form factor and you are not going to sit at it for three hours. Most people in the developed world are within 20 or 30 minutes of broadband and a screen, and that's when they will browse.

"On a mobile it's important that you find it right away."

This means that Google has to slice its huge corpus of data differently for mobile users and tailor results to where people are sitting or standing when they make the query.

There are many emerging markets where people do not have a PC and will never have one
Deep Nishar, Google
What is also important to realise about mobile devices, said Mr Nishar, is that they are far more personal than a home computer.

"A PC is much more of a shared device," he said. "But a mobile is not something I share with anyone."

So far the bits of Google you can reach via your mobile are fairly limited.

You can use a browser on your phone to send queries to the search site as you would on a PC. You can also search for images or just search those sites created just for mobile phones.

It is also possible to read your GMail account via a mobile and, in the UK, you can search Google via text messages.

In California it is possible to get Google maps on your handset to help if you are looking for a particular place.

Using many of these services requires a web browser on a phone but, said Mr Nishar, only about 50% of the world's phones are powerful enough to run that software.

Culture shock

Google does not make all its mobile services available in all locations because different cultures make very different uses of their phone.

For instance, said Mr Nishar, text messaging is huge in Europe and China. By contrast, almost no-one in Japan uses it.

But the Japanese do make very heavy use of e-mail on mobile devices. They also do a huge amount of net surfing via handsets.

Nigerian phone seller, AP
In many nations, mobiles are far more popular than computers
In many nations outside the West phones are also hugely important ways of going online largely because they are so much cheaper than a desktop computer.

In China, said Mr Nishar, there are three times as many mobiles as PCs. In nations like Nigeria, people prefer mobiles because power supply problems in running a computer.

"There are many emerging markets where people do not have a PC and will never have one," he said.

Add in the moves towards using net phone services via wi-fi and you can understand why Google is dedicating a lot of time and resources to mobile developments.

Eventually, the thinking goes, most people will be accessing Google most of the time via a mobile device.

"It's going to get better, faster, cheaper thanks to Moore's Law and become a better experience in the long run," said Mr Nishar. "It's going to be a very important channel."

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