HUA HIN, Thailand - A new search solution could be on the way, one that may be
able to tip the scales on the Internet juggernaut Google and its
world-dominating search engine. Success or failure however is likely to come
down to a marketing campaign and not the competence of the product, since most
search engines today do the same thing using similar technologies.
Google's search results are far from perfect but the name has become so
synonymous with "Internet search" that it has remained at the top of the tree
for 10 years since its introduction.
Microsoft has always lagged in the search race and is now reportedly looking to
spend $100 million on an ad campaign promoting its new search engine, dubbed
Bing, which was launched this week. Following in Apple's footsteps, the
software giant will question its rivals and offer an alternative in the hope
consumers will make the switch based upon better results.
According to Reuters, Google recently asked users to make a search without
knowing what engine they were using. The options were a rival search engine
with a Google logo and its own system under a different name. As expected,
people opted for the brand name over the performance. Google is well aware of
this market trend.
Microsoft hopes that by removing this dependence on the familiar brand name it
can convince more consumers to use its system. The company is also well aware
that one of the hardest things to do is to get people to switch from what
they're used to. Microsoft bosses will be happy bunnies if people are "Binging"
a year from now, but the fact that we are creatures of habit, even in the
digital world, may make this a tough void to bridge.
Microsoft's choice of name for its search engine, as noted by some critics,
also carries an unfortunate acronym - "But It's Not Google". It also appears
that nobody is home no matter how many times you "Bing" because, at the time of
writing, all there is at bing.com is a "coming soon" message, altogether
indicating that this is probably not the best start for the next best thing in
Microsoft's search plans could spark back into life the hot tech relationship
of last year, as Yahoo chief executive Carol Bartz was quoted as saying "If
there's boatloads of money and the right technology involved, we'd do a deal,
sure," in reference to Microsoft's persistent takeover bids.
Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer has been hinting at a deal whereby Microsoft
offers a search engine for both companies, which would share the revenue. This
would effectively consume Yahoo's search division and may provide the impetus
for Microsoft's new search engine plans.
Meanwhile, Google has been extending its lead with a 66% US search and
advertising market share for last month according to industry analysts Nielsen
Online. Yahoo and Microsoft are plodding along behind with 16.3% and 9.9%
Microsoft's plans to chip away at Apple's dominant slice of the media-player
market took a step forward this week as the company revealed the latest
iteration of its Zune media player. Apple's iPod has been the force to be
reckoned with for a number of years, but the new Zune HD boasts a number of
features that makes it a serious contender.
According to Microsoft, it is the first portable media player that combines a
built-in direct-digital radio receiver, high-definition (HD) video output
capabilities, organic light-emitting diode (OLED) multi-touch screen, Wi-Fi and
an Internet browser.
The Zune will be one of the first media players to use an OLED display, which
has the benefits of faster response time and prolonged battery life.
Direct-digital radio, also known as HD Radio, is also being touted as one of
the plus points though many listeners are still unaware that the technology
exists despite increasing numbers of stations using it for broadcasting.
Videos and content will be available through the Xbox 360 Live service; there
may also be a new Zune video service for the gaming console. The media player
is expected to be on the shelves by autumn this year so the announcement is a
little early but could be seen as a suggestion to consumers to wait for its
release. Zune HD will cost around US$200 for the 16 gigabyte version and $300
Apple aficionados are expecting a redesign of the iPod Touch to come in timely
With all the hype surrounding online application stores for mobile devices,
specifically Apple's boastful App Store, Nokia could want for nothing more than
a smooth launch of its own Ovi Store this week. Unfortunately for the Finnish
company, things could have gone better.
The phone giant was forced to make an apology on its Ovi Blog on Tuesday as
traffic spikes coinciding with the launch of the service resulted in
performance issues and complete outages. Following similar problems experienced
by Apple and others, you would think that companies would expect this and take
appropriate measures to alleviate the traffic bottlenecks ... evidently not.
The Ovi Store will allow Nokia handset owners to download free and paid
applications for over 50 devices in the company's product range. It will serve
as Nokia's answer to Apple's App Store, Research In Motion's Blackberry App
World, Google's Android Market, and Microsoft's Windows Marketplace in the
ever-growing mobile applications industry.
The world's largest social networking company, Facebook, parted with a 1.96%
stake for a cool $200 million this week. The investment was made by Russian
company Digital Sky Technologies; the company is looking to partner Facebook in
offering paid services to supplement its revenue.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg made a statement indicating that the company
does not need the money and will just use it as a buffer with no solid plans on
spending any of it. He said paid services would be the next evolutionary stage
for the social networking platform and he was not thinking about selling shares
to the public just yet. This latest investment, which comes after Microsoft
invested $240 million in 2006, puts Facebook's market value at an estimated $10
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.