Google and Microsoft Rumors: Implications for Mobile Local Search

Rumors continue to swirl this week about a potential Microsoft acquisition of Tellme. This was first reported by TechCrunch back in February. Now the Wall Street Journal (sub req) is reporting the companies are in talks and the sale price could be in the $800 million range. CNET has a similar story (if you don’t have a WSJ sub).

Tellme is a strong (and profitable) company in the rapidly growing wireless voice search area, which could provide a great deal of value for Microsoft (past SEW writing on Tellme is here). Tellme would bring the ability to integrate voice search into the Windows Mobile software platform, giving MSFT an edge in Mobile Local Search over its search and portal competitors.

This direction was implied in a WSJ quote from Steve Ballmer a few months ago, which Om Malik unearthed yesterday:

“The leading edge battleground between us and Google in local search really will come on the phone,” Ballmer said.

Voice search has a great deal of potential as examined in The Kelsey Group report Wireless Voice Search: The Multi-Modal Revolution. It is a relatively user friendly form of mobile local search that could push overall adoption forward, given Windows Mobile’s installed base

Elsewhere in the rumor mill, The San Jose Mercury News has more speculation on a possible Google phone. Just as Microsoft would gain ground in mobile local search with a Tellme acquisition, a Google phone could similarly plant Google search capability directly onto the phone. A lot is still unclear about what this device could be, but The Merc suggests a possible blackberry-like device that has VoIP capability which can be used when in WiFi range.

As pointed out in a previous post on new product announcements at 3GSM, VoIP enabled phones can lessen the dependence on wireless carriers. This can sidestep the carrier control that has proved to be a significant barrier in pushing mobile local search applications out. Getting planted directly “on the carrier deck” is the challenge because it requires a relationship to be formed with a carriers, which is hard to do and often involves signing over one’s soul.

Google, with a prospective phone of its own, could essentially sidestep this challenge. Of course the phone could be something completely different, or perhaps not a phone at all but a software platform for mobile devices, akin to Windows Mobile or Palm OS.

Rumors like should be taken with a grain of salt and a certain amount of discretion, but they can also be valuable as a mental exercise to speculate possibilities in embryonic areas such as mobile local search.

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