Microsoft Updates Bing with New Mobile, Social, Maps Features

Microsoft has updated its Bing search engine with new features, as the company seeks to shorten Google's market lead.

Microsoft unveiled some updates to its Bing search engine Dec. 15, as the company rounds out another year of heightened competition with Google in the worldwide search market.

Those updates include new features for its Bing for Mobile app for iPhone and Android, notably integration of OpenTable and Grubhub. Microsoft is also promising street-level imagery, real-time public transit info, and "check in" functionality.

Microsoft used the announcement to highlight its previously-announced deeper integration with Facebook. "Starting today, if your search results include a specific link that has also been -liked' by someone in your Facebook network the link will be highlighted as -Liked' within Bing," Paul Yiu, Bing's Group Program Manager, wrote in a Dec. 15 posting on the Bing Community blog. The feature is currently available only to those users in the United States.

Bing Maps have also undergone a tweaking, mostly related to aesthetics: in addition to improved highway symbols and greater color contrast for streets, the application now differentiates more starkly between major and minor streets.

In order to adjust Bing Maps, along with the overall search engine, Microsoft's teams broke down what constitutes a "quality" search result, eventually deciding that such a creature is dependent on four factors: a visually organized experience, a focus on tasks, social relevance, and device intelligence.

"The core of our work addresses the fact that the Web is getting more complex and faceted-not less," Online Services Division senior vice president Satya Nadella wrote in a Dec. 15 posting on the Bing Community blog. "This evolution challenges us and the industry to more thoughtfully define search quality as more than just speed or how well we've matched links to your query."

In the name of social relevance, Bing is now offering integration with FanSnap, to purchase tickets to concerts and sporting events through the event-details page in Bing, and-for desktop users-the ability to "walk inside" restaurants and other venues using 360-degree panoramic views. In the latter case, a "Step Inside" icon will allow people to walk through 3D renderings of those local businesses. Technology from startup EveryScape will help power this Bing feature.

According to research firm comScore, Bing occupied some 11.8 percent of the search-engine market in November, dwarfed by Google's 66.2 percent but still good for a year-over-year increase of 31 percent. That might hearten Microsoft executives, who have burned millions of dollars in losses in order for the company to establish a toehold in that market.

However, Bing's continued survival is a slap to early critics who believed the search engine would die in short order. In addition, Bing now powers Yahoo's back-end searches, under the terms of a 2009 search-and-advertising agreement, which in theory will give Microsoft scale as it seeks to shrink Google's lead. But numbers-wise, Bing still has a long way to go if it wishes to threaten Google's dominance of the market.