Microsoft tries to make the Bing app for iOS and Android much more useful

Improvements include a new Deals tab, a barcode scanner, and fuel prices

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What do people even use their smartphones for these days?

There’s the obvious -- making calls, texting, finding an Uber, and thumbing through Facebook feeds. After those activities, we almost always turn to search functions. Rather laboriously, we tap a movie theater name and city or we try to look up gas prices. It’s a portal to what is around us in the moment, but it’s cumbersome because we have to type so much text.

Just this week, Microsoft made a valiant attempt to improve how search works on your mobile by cutting out a few extra steps. A good example of this is related to food. On a smartphone, if you are not using it to text and call, you are likely trying to find a place to eat. In the new version, there is now a tab called Deals, which pops up coupons for places like Subway and Domino’s. It also shows deals for haircut places, Red Box, and even a truck rental. It removes some of the frustration.

What’s really helpful about this new feature is that you don’t have to type anything. You are parked at the school picking up the kids and, within seconds, can see that there’s a pizza special or a coupon for Culver's. Or, you can quickly look up gas stations and see who has the best price right in your area.

Bing also has a new barcode scanner. I tested it with a few products laying around my office, including some macadamia nuts from a company called Royal Hawaiian. Within about two second, the app found the product and showed me the latest price on Amazon. It's a good way to price shop in a pinch.

When you search for gas prices, you can quickly get directions to that station, place a phone call, and see higher octane fuel prices if you happen to own an Audi or a BMW (ahem). It doesn’t let you customize the search by selecting a fuel grade compare one chain against another. The app is feeding information as though you typed the phrase “gas near me” into in your mobile browser. I doubt any of us can keep track of which phrases trigger certain search results. If you’re like me, you have memorized a few (like movies: minneapolis) that seem to work in Google or on Bing.

The app does a great job of putting these features right on the home screen. There’s an icon for POIs near me, Deals, Restaurants, Movies, Images, Videos, News, and Maps. It’s really handy. When I did a few searches, several worked fine. Bing understood the phrase “Pizza near me” as “Pizza by mean” for some reason. Also, voice search doesn’t understand context. If you voice search for “Where is a Domino’s near me” then Bing will show the right results. If you then ask “which one has a good deal” Bing shows results for something completely different.

That said, Microsoft seems to understand how people use their phones. We want to find information fast without a lot of headaches. We tend to do the same activities over and over again, like looking for a lunch special or a good fuel price. The app needs to make voice search work better, but I plan to use it next time I go pick up the kids.

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