Yahoo Battles to Win New Users Despite Takeover Bid

The beleaguered Internet company is counting on new voice recognition, search assistance and idle search features to build its mobile audience.

The new voice search and search assistance features in its new OneSearch mobile service indicate that Yahoo will continue to enhance its Web services despite the looming presence of rival Microsoft, which offered to buy the company Feb. 1.

The new features are also the latest steps on a mobile Web ladder race the embattled Internet company is running against Google, Microsoft and AOL to win new users.

It's true that Yahoo has both struggled financially and with its strategic direction in recent years, but services such as OneSearch, the OneConnect communications application and OnePlace content management application, are part of the company's justification for attempting a turnaround under CEO Jerry Yang.

Indeed, since launching the first iteration of OneSearch last year, Marco Boerries, executive vice president of Yahoo's Connected Life division, said the company inked 29 partnerships with carriers, spanning more than 600 million consumers. Yahoo is counting on these users to click on mobile ads its sees in Yahoo-supported mobile content to make money.

OneSearch 2.0, announced by Yahoo officials April 2 at the CTIA Wireless 2008 show in Las Vegas, allows users to voice search queries into their Web enabled phones.

Yahoo has partnered with speech recognition software specialist Vlingo to let consumers search for anything from flight number,s to movie times to local restaurants just by speaking. The idea is to save users the time and hassle of furiously punching in searches into their mobile phone's Web browser.

The Vlingo technology on OneSearch 2.0 is particularly effective, according to Yahoo, because users do not need to follow prompts and think about how to phrase a mobile search. They can just voice a command and get solid results, Boerries said at CTIA.

Voice search is available now for some BlackBerry devices, including the 8800 series, Curve and Pearl in the United States, but will be available on additional devices and become available internationally in the next few months.

In another effort to speed up mobile searches, Yahoo has taken the Search Assist feature it debuted on its desktop Web search engine and applied to OneSearch 2.0.

Search Assist includes predictive text completion, so as users begin to type, the technology delivers the most common search queries that match the letters users have submitted so far. When a user sees a query that matches what they are typing, they can select it to get the results.

This is similar to the way Microsoft Outlook offers users e-mail alias choices in the message "to" window. Search Assist will also make contextual recommendations, so if a user types in "Apple," the technology may recommend links such as Apple iPhone.

Search Assist is available for the iPhone today but is expected to become available on additional AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML)-compatible devices over the coming months.

Yahoo today also pledged to open up its mobile search results to publishers and developers across the Internet, echoing the company's March 13 pledge to cultivate an open search environment.

Yahoo said opening up its search results will let publishers integrate content into the OneSearch results to improve the search experience for consumers. In doing so, publishers will also better control how their content is presented in mobile search and, ideally, generate more traffic to their sites.

Yahoo expects open search results to debut with partners in the second quarter.