Bing Spring 2010 Updates
Microsoft's Bing search engine--excuse me, decision engine--is the kind of product the old MSN unit used to pump out regularly. That is, it's updated on a fairly regular schedule, and has been since its launch just over a year ago. In that time, Bing has made some headway against the market leader, Google, but more important, I think is the fact that Bing proves that there's life left in a business that, frankly, everyone had pretty much figured was locked up and done with. Bing is prettier and warmer than Google, yes. But while any search engine can handle the typical search query, where Bing really pulls ahead is in the variety of so-called vertical searches and with more complicated decisions. The term "decision engine" may seem like marketing hoo-hah, but over this past year, Microsoft has indeed honed Bing into just that. It's getting really good.
In keeping with its ongoing update regimen, Bing this spring is receiving a number of important upgrade that, again, distance this decision engine from the cold white world of Google. These updates are being released over a short period of time and, indeed, some have already happened. In this article, I'd like to highlight these updates, all of which should begin going live this week. So let's start at the beginning.
Bing in Safari (and Opera too!)
When: June 8
During Apple's WWDC developer show earlier this month, the company released the latest version of its web browser, Safari 5. (See my overview.) Among the handful of new features is the addition of Bing, alongside Google and Yahoo--as a built-in search engine choice. Additionally, Bing is part of the Safari browser that's included in iOS 4 for the iPhone and iPod touch. This shipped June 21. (See my overview of iOS4.) And what the heck, Bing is available in Opera too: That started on June 16.
When: June 9
Last October, Microsoft began offering Twitter posts--or the "Twitter fire hose" as it was described at the time--in its search results. Starting this month, Microsoft is now adding public Facebook updates as well, and renaming the whole shebang as Bing Social. This interface is basically a way to see what's hot currently on the top two social networks, and you can mouse over the topic list on the left to find out more. That one of the top topics as I write this is "Laker parade" is, of course, mildly annoying.
When: June 11
A few weeks back, Microsoft announced that it was opening up the Bing Maps SDK to third party developers, allowing them to create their own map-based applications, which they can then submit to Microsoft for inclusion in the Bing Maps App Gallery, which is available from the new Silverlight-based Bing Maps experience.
The available apps are pretty cool: There are the expected weather, restaurant and hotel finders, and so on, but also some really innovative and expectedly fun apps. For example, you can find urban graffiti, find the cheapest parking or the cheapest gas nearby, and explore local health statistics. The possibilities are, of course, endless, and now that the SDK is open to one and all it will be interesting to see what pops up.
When: June 18
While the pending cessation of the sadly-underused Bing Cashback program garnered a lot of headlines, Microsoft's updates to the core shopping experience did not. Last week, Microsoft added a number of useful features to the useful Bing shopping experience, including the ability to share deals with others via social network (Facebook and Twitter right now, but, curiously, not Windows Live) or email. The product filtering options were expanded dramatically in some cases, helping users to fine-tune product searches. The number of product categories (28) and sub-categories (300+) have also expanded nicely. And, perhaps most important--and in keeping with a Bing mantra to not force the user to browse outside of Bing until absolutely necessary--individual product pages have been updated with tons of relevant information, including reviews, ratings, images, specifications, and, in some cases, even product manuals.
iPhone app update
When: June 22
Today, Microsoft updated the Bing app for iPhone (or, as we should probably call it now, iOS). This app was already excellent to begin with--check out my overview--but the 1.2 update adds search and site bookmarking, search results sharing, location setting, SafeSearch with password protection, and private searching. Also, compatibility was added with earlier iPod touch devices.