Posted by Paul Williams, Search Analyst (Natural Search)
Last week Yahoo! launched Inquisitor for the iPhone, a search application based on their suggestive and adaptive search tool. This continues a trend in releases of stand-alone search applications that are optimized for use with mobile handsets. Google was one of the first to release a search application for the iPhone last year. I imagine this trend will continue with the improvements to smartphone handsets and the accessibility of their digital application stores.
Inquisitor differs from the Google iPhone app because it has been handcrafted for complete mobile efficiency. It loads results quickly, offers Yahoo!'s suggestions as the user types into the search box (even offering easily “tappable” keyword suggestions to skip unnecessary typing), and provides succinct natural search results. Paired with these results are two notable news articles relating to the keyword, found immediately beneath the search box. Upon tapping, these conveniently evolve into a Yahoo! News search. Clicking any of the actual results opens the hyperlink in an integrated browser based on WebKit (the same engine powering the built-in Safari browser). While the page is loading, a summary scraped from the page's content is provided on the bottom half of the screen as a segue to the load's completion.
The most notable omission from the Inquisitor search results are paid ads. No room was made for these items, and instead the application relies entirely on natural search results. Also, only about 82 characters from the meta description are displayed on screen (not including a truncated title tag, in which only 25 characters are displayed). These items are extremely important for natural search and marketing, especially since the meta description informs users as to the content they are about to view. Users can easily backtrack if they don’t want to waste their time with a page that does not clearly fulfill their inquiry. Users’ intent tends to be more direct and prejudiced with mobile search due to the slower Internet speeds on handsets. Accurate and compelling meta descriptions, catered to the truncated mobile format of search results, will become more important in steering search traffic.
While this application isn't a game-changing release, it is a hint of the future of mobile search — succinct, relevant, and platform-optimized search based on the inquirer's intent. As more people use mobile devices to search, their expectations for accessibility and handset-relevant interface design may move beyond the awkward formatting of mobile versions of search sites and further into specially tailored search tools.