Microsoft to focus on search apps with Bing

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Director of search says he's focused on integrating search into Microsoft products, services

Microsoft's director of search admitted that its Bing search engine can't compete with Google search in a full-on faceoff, but the company will focus instead on search applications.

Stefan Weitz, who leads Microsoft's search efforts, told an audience at the Web Summit conference in Dublin on Tuesday that he's less interested in Bing as a stand-alone search engine and more interested in integrating the technology into the company's other products.

"The question is, where is search really going?" Weitz said, according to a report in The Register. "It's unlikely we're going to take share in [the pure search] space, but in machine learning, natural language search… and how we can make search more part of living. For us, it's less about Bing.com, though that's still important. It's really about how we can instead weave the tech into things you're already doing."

By integrating search into different applications, Microsoft should be able to grab more search market share in the future, Weitz said, according to The Register.

"For pure keyword search, we're around 30% in the U.S. -- not so much in Europe," he said. "But search in different areas of life? That mix is to be determined. I'm committed to making sure we have our fair share of search in the future."

Brad Shimmin, an analyst with Current Analysis, told Computerworld that Microsoft would be smart to focus less on a head-to-head competition with Google search and more on working Bing-based technology into Windows products.

"At the end of the day that isn't a battle that can be fought right now," Shimmin said. "It's a matter of how inured we are with Google. It's now become the, 'Pass me a Coke or hand me a Kleenex.' Our cultural norm has evolved around Google. It's not just a search engine. It's a knowledge engine that helps you find your way home or what time the Dodgers play."

Five years after Microsoft released Bing, the search engine has not been the challenger to Google that Microsoft hoped it would be. While Bing hasn't gained significant market share in those five years, it still remains second in search only to Google.

Earlier this year, Internet tracker comScore Inc. reported that Google still held 67.5% of the search market, while Bing had 18.6% and Yahoo, 10.1%.

A big part of the problem is that the name Google has become synonymous with search, and users have created a habit of using Google when they want to search for anything on the web.

Dave Schubmehl, an analyst with IDC, agreed that Bing has little chance of taking any significant amount of Google's search market share.

"Google is pretty ingrained for most people on Web search, especially with the combination of Chrome and Android fueling initial queries to Google," he said. "I really don't think Bing has any way to overcome this advantage for standard search."

That means Microsoft is more likely to find success with Bing if it's worked into mobile applications and Microsoft's enterprise-focused software.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, noted that Cortana, an intelligent personal assistant on Windows Phone, is a search app.

"If you can add intelligence to the front end and your artificial intelligence is smart, you might be able to render traditional Google search redundant," he added.

Microsoft already is working its search technology into some of its apps and services.

"Microsoft should invest in Bing as a means of differentiating its applications, predominantly Office and the Windows platform," said Shimmin. "They literally are using technology built into Bing. They launched software called Microsoft Azure Machine Learning, and it uses tech from both Bing and Xbox to allow companies to take a data set and make predictions."

If an Office 365 user needs to find something in the application, he could use built-in Bing to do it.

"They should focus on what has always made Microsoft important, and that is they are the interface for business users and many consumers," Shimmin said. "If you open an Office document, shouldn't search play in how you work with that document and shouldn't it be Bing? Microsoft can make their platform and their apps more valuable through the power of search."

Schubmehl said there is a lot of potential for search growth but it won't be in the ways that search companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, have become accustomed.

As people use the Web less on their mobile devices, they'll use mobile apps, such as Yelp, UrbanSpoon and Facebook, more.

"I believe Microsoft is looking to expand the landscape around search applications to include capabilities that work at both a personal and enterprise level, both for the Web and the emerging discovery opportunities around mobile data and applications," said Schubmehl.

Instead of appearing to be the loser in the race with Google, Microsoft needs to reposition the battle and focus on reinforcing the real value of Bing to the company.

"They should rethink the battle they're in because it's not one they can win or should try to win," said Shimmin. "I just don't think they can out Google Google."

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