Microsoft's not-so-secret plan to vault Bing over Google

Bing is an also-ran to Google's seach dominance, but Microsoft's plan to challenge the leader is starting to pay off, and could pay even bigger dividends in a few short years. It likely won't be enough to take the top spot from Google, but it could turn Bing into a serious contender.

At first, the plan sounds like the usual tech hype: Microsoft has been turning Bing into a platform, not just a search engine. The word "platform" is one of the most overused and hyped in the tech lexicon. But in this case, it's accurate.

The idea behind the plan is simple: Get people to search Bing no matter where they are and what they're doing -- in fact, have them search Bing without even necessarily knowing that's what they're doing.

As a practical matter, that means launching search APIs allowing developers to hook various Bing features into their own apps. And it means integrating Bing deeply into Windows 8, as well as into Apple's Siri, and potentially deeper into iOS and Mac OS X in the future.

Gurdeep Singh Pall, Bing Corporate Vice President said on a recent blog that this new strategy is:

"... a profound expansion of our approach to search by creating a platform that unites the intelligent services that power and by making these capabilities available to 3rdparty developers via new APIs and controls... For us, the future of search is not about more search boxes – it’s about building a platform to enable applications and devices to empower people with knowledge and help them do more -- not just search more."

Those are more than empty words, because Microsoft is starting to deliver it. You can see the beginnings of it in Windows 8.1 When you search in Windows 8.1, you search not only your device, but the Internet as well. That's simple to do. But more interesting is the way those searches return, notably via a "Search Hero," gleaned from Bing information that aggregates graphics, videos and information onto a simple-to-browse page, including a media player. Windows 8.1 also includes entirely new interactive apps built using Bing, such as for health, food and drink.

All that is important, because it puts Bing beyond the search box, and even beyond the browser. If people get used to doing searches from right within Windows 8.1, there will be no need to head out to Google. They'll do everything right inside the operating system, which means using Bing. And if developers use Bing APIs, it means people will be doing Bing searches from right within apps as well. Again, why go to Google if there's no need to?

In addition, Microsoft has signed a deal with Apple to have Bing power Siri searches on iOS. If things go well, it could lead to Bing powering all iOS searches, and beyond that, potentially all Mac OS X searches. That can help get at one of Microsoft's big problems: mobile search. Because Windows Phone's market share is so small, Bing doesn't currently power many mobile searches compared to Google. But if Bing eventually powers all iOS searches and all Windows Phone searches, Microsoft will suddenly be a serious player in mobile search.

All this isn't to say that Bing is about to overtake Google today, tomorrow, or possibly ever. But MIcrosoft's approach is one of the more innovative approaches to search in a long time. And it may well make Bing a serious contender.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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