New Bing API Adds Context-Aware Search to Mobile Apps

A new application programming interface from Microsoft provides more seamless in-app search experiences on mobile devices.

Bing in-app search

Microsoft today announced a new Bing application programming interface (API) that fetches the information mobile app users seek without having to switch to a mobile browser or search app.

The new API's capabilities "allow developers to directly integrate the [Bing] knowledge graph into their apps," Ryan Gavin, general manager of Microsoft Bing, told eWEEK. Interested developers must email to request access to the API.

By exposing Bing's knowledge and action graph via an API, Microsoft is helping developers not only enrich their apps, but also drive more user engagement, Gavin said. The company's knowledge and action graph is a repository of information with more than "a billion entries, 18 billion facts and 21 billion connected actions," he noted.

Integrating the technology can lead to stickier, more fulfilling in-app experiences, even if they are delivered on non-Windows platforms, Gavin argued.

Inspired by the innovation on display across the entire mobile device and application market—not to mention the opportunities therein—his team realized that they couldn't "stay inside the four walls of Microsoft," he said. A major challenge confronting mobile developers is keeping "consumers inside of their app experience," he noted.

The company's answer is an API that brings some of the advanced search capabilities baked into Cortana, Xbox and Office to mobile apps of all stripes. Developers can add Bing "snapshots" that deliver supplemental information in a context-aware manner.

"For instance, a messaging app could add a Bing snapshot with actionable info on a restaurant, making it easier for a group to plan an evening," explained Gurpreet Pall, director of program management, Bing for Partners, in an Aug. 20 blog post. "A social media app could augment users' photos with information about the locations of each photo. A news app could show definitions and descriptions of terms that users want to drill into."

To showcase the API's capabilities, Microsoft is updating its Bing app on Android, enabling the software to overlay the Bing snapshot experience over existing apps.

For example, the updated app can help users learn more about the vacation spots their social media friends and contacts visited. "Just long-press the home button and Bing will read the contents of your screen, identify the destination your friend posted about, and present you with information that you can find on the Web to learn more, and a snapshot showing key facts about that destination, along with connections into relevant apps and services, like Lonely Planet," stated Pall.

During a live demo of the app, a Microsoft staffer showed how the new Bing app can provide a landmark's location on a map without leaving Instagram. While viewing a movie trailer in the YouTube app, a user can call up reviews from different sources or buy movie tickets.

The new Bing API is among many efforts by Microsoft to "evolve [search] out to the browser box," Gavin said. "Bing [is] becoming this intelligence platform," growing increasingly capable of providing search in the context of what users are doing, he added.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...