AOL tests cell-phone search site
America Online plans to begin testing a new service that lets wireless phone users search the Internet and link to regular Web pages that it will reformat for tiny cell-phone screens.
The test of AOL Mobile Search Services is an attempt to move away from the computer, where its position as the dominant Internet provider is being undermined as users defect to cable operators and telephone companies offering high-speed Internet access.
Wireless phone service providers also have had a tough time getting U.S. mobile users to spend more time on their phones other than for calls or text messages, analysts said.
But as the next generation of wireless networks with higher speeds begin to roll out across the United States, media, technology and service providers are racing to extend the computing experience away from the desk.
AOL, a unit of media conglomerate Time Warner Inc., struck a deal to use technology from InfoGin Ltd., an Israeli mobile tech company that makes software to translate regular Web pages to fit on phones.
Users can reach the site directly from their phones by typing in the address (mobile.aolsearch.com).
EVERYBODY'S PHONE SURFIN' NOW
AOL's test comes amid a flurry of other major deals between phone manufacturers and wireless operators. In June, Web search leader Google Inc. struck a deal with Deutsche Telekom's mobile arm T-Mobile to use Google as the starting point for surfing the Internet on T-Mobile handsets.
Yahoo Inc. struck a partnership with handset maker Motorola Inc. to make accessing Email, news, instant messaging and searching easier on more powerful phones.
Indeed, while few of these services will have a material impact on the bottom line for these companies now, the payoff could be nothing short of establishing relevance as consumers demand access to anything, anywhere, any time.
For wireless service operators, these deals appear to signal a shift in strategy, analysts said.
Up until recently, wireless service operators, like their online counterparts such as AOL, have attempted to maintain a lock on services to keep out interlopers.
"Initially, there has been an attempt by (wireless) carriers to own where customers were going and they wanted to keep them within the walled garden," said Linda Barrabee, a Yankee Group senior analyst.
But these days, "consumers are really keying into communications and personalization ... They want Email and search," she added.
AOL's mobile search also will tie in with Yellow Pages local directory search and give users the ability to find shopping information.
The company did not announce deals with carriers during the testing period.
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