Yahoo! Takes Local Search Mobile

In keeping with its renewed focus on the mobile market, Yahoo has expanded its search service, extending local, image and Web search to wireless phones.

Yahoo has made the local and image searches available to anyone who has a WAP 2.0 browser on their phone, through search.yahoo.com. Only HTML-capable phones, such as those running the Palm OS, can access the Web search functions. AT&T Wireless, Sprint and Cingular will link to the service from their data portals.

“The launch of Yahoo Search for mobile is a crucial step in providing customers with a new and powerful point of access to our search products,” said Dan Rosensweig, chief operating officer of Yahoo

The mobile Local searches, which clearly are the focus of the new offering, give users access to local business listings. Results include business name, address, phone number, user ratings and a full-color map with driving directions. The phone numbers are clickable so users can easily place phone calls to the businesses. Users can also save frequent searches for easy access. The offering is also integrated with Yahoo Maps’ saved locations, so registered users can easily search in the proximity of often-used addresses.

Image searches let people access thumbnails of full-color images, if their phones are capable of displaying them, including maps.

Web searches allow users with HTML-capable phones to access Yahoo Search results. Results are the same as they are on the Web, but they’re formatted to fit better on the phone. The company has enabled shortcuts for movies, definitions, stock quotes, sports scores, weather, and calculator features.

So far, there are no ads on the new mobile offerings. A Yahoo spokesperson characterized the offerings as a way for the company to deepen its relationships with consumers. The goal, she said, was for people to think of Yahoo whenever they want to search, no matter where they are.

The move comes just weeks after competitor Google introduced SMS-based search. The search company has long had mobile Web search capabilities and, more recently, introduced a mobile version of Froogle product search. A number of smaller players have also developed products to tap into the burgeoning market.

Yahoo made an early, perhaps too early, foray into mobile services in the late 1990s. Now that technology and usage have begun to catch up with its ambitions, Yahoo has, more recently, begun to encourage usage of its mobile offerings. As part of its “Take Yahoo With You” initiative, the company recently ran two contests that rewarded users for trying its mobile services. The “Yahoo Picture What Matters” contest asked people to email a picture taken with their camera phone using the company’s mobile phone upload capabilities. The “Yahoo Mobile Custom Ride” promotion let users enter to win by logging into Yahoo or Yahoo Messenger from their mobile phones.

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