Microsoft launched a Bing app for iPhone on Dec. 16, giving users of its rival’s smartphone the ability to voice search, find nearby points of interest, and receive driving or walking directions.
The app can be downloaded from Apple’s App Store.
“Our investments in voice search (you may have played with them on Windows phones or BlackBerry already) continues in our iPhone App,” Justin Jed of Microsoft’s Bing team wrote in a Dec. 15 posting on Bing’s official blog. “Just say ‘San Francisco weather’ for a quick result, or even say a full address for a map or directions.”
The Bing maps include a dedicated zoom-out button, if the user is somehow unable to pinch the screen to perform that function. The app also uses users’ locations to present them with categorized local points of interest, including restaurants, banks and theaters. Users can receive walking or driving directions to those locations.
The app preserves Bing’s visual motifs, such as the daily wallpaper.
Bing has undergone two major updates in as many months. Early December’s additions included a beta version of the updated Bing maps, as well as the new Bing for Windows Mobile application. That smartphone program featured improved auto-locate and voice search, providing streamlined access to maps and driving directions, as well as quick bookmarking of local businesses and locations for later reference.
Despite the presence of its own mobile operating system, Windows Mobile, Microsoft has spent 2009 porting a good deal of branded mobile applications onto rivals’ devices. On Aug. 12, Microsoft and Nokia announced a deal to load a mobile version of Microsoft Office onto Nokia smartphones, starting with the Nokia Eseries.
While that alliance would allow both companies to compete more aggressively against Research In Motion, certain analysts viewed the move as a retreat on Microsoft’s part from its original plan of going it alone in the mobile arena.
“I see [the Nokia agreement] as a tacit admission from Microsoft that WinMo [Windows Mobile] hasn’t made the grade,” Nick Jones, an analyst with Gartner, wrote in a blog post following the joint announcement. “Imagine you’re [Microsoft CEO] Steve Ballmer, and in two years’ time WinMo was still fourth in smartphone market share. How much longer do you keep throwing money at it?”
Despite the Nokia agreement’s goal of challenging RIM, Microsoft has also made its mobile applications available for BlackBerry.
And in spite of its porting Bing to Apple’s App Store, Microsoft continues to push mobile applications through its own Windows Marketplace for Mobile. Launched along with the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system in October, Microsoft envisioned its Marketplace as a viable challenger to similar offerings from not only Apple, but also RIM, Google and Palm. However, considering that the Microsoft storefront launched with 246 mobile applications on offer, versus the hundreds or thousands available for Android Marketplace or the App Store, it may take some time for Microsoft to develop a truly competitive ecosystem.