With lead slipping, Yahoo focuses on wireless

Ben Charny

SAN FRANCISCO - Yahoo Inc. and rival Google Inc. both announced new cell-phone initiatives on Monday, highlighting how these two major Internet players have shifted their battle to the mobile sector.

Yahoo unveiled a new search engine and portal designed exclusively for mobile phones. In addition, both Yahoo and Google Inc. announced Monday that they've reached deals to distribute their software on cell phones made by Samsung.

The battle to win the hearts and minds of cell-phone users is intensifying, as the amount of money spent to advertise within these features keeps soaring. This year, there will be $1.5 billion spent on ads that show up on mobile phones, according to various estimates, and that tally will double by 2010.

"There are several reasons why 2007 could be a watershed year for this market," said Andy Castonguay, a wireless analyst at the Yankee Group, a technology research firm.

What's more, the amount of growth associated with Internet search and other mainstays on the wired Web, while continuing at a healthy clip, has shown signs of slowing as the numbers of users is beginning to approach saturation levels.

The importance of Yahoo's mobile push is heightened because of its struggles on the wired side. In November, some Net traffic monitors concluded that MySpace, the upstart social network owned by News Corp., supplanted Yahoo in the rankings, something that's expected to have a negative impact.

Arguably the most important of the new wrinkles from Yahoo is oneSearch, an engine designed for mobile phones that recognizes the "intent" of a search to better streamline results in a format better suited for mobile phones, according to Yahoo.

For instance, entering just the name of a sports team can generate scores and schedules, rather than just a listing of Web pages with the team's name on them.

Yahoo also said Monday that it has expanded relationships with two major handset makers.

The company's features will now be available to owners of BlackBerry devices made by Research In Motion Ltd., which has partnered with Yahoo since 2005 to distribute other mobile versions of its services. Yahoo also reached similar deals with Nokia Corp., the world's leading handset maker, to add its software to Nokia's wireless tablet.

Along these lines, Yahoo's search engine for phones will be the exclusive provider of mobile search via Opera Software's popular Internet browser for handsets.

Samsung said Monday that it plans to expand the number of its handsets that come preloaded with Yahoo features this year, and already has launched its first such mobile handset, the SGH-E570.

Not to be undone, Google announced a deal with Samsung, which Google describes as a "global cooperation" to provide mobile-phone users with access to Google's e-mail, search and mapping features.

"Google is dedicated to providing users around the world with easier access information and services when they are mobile," Google wireless products and strategy director Deep Nishar said in a statement.

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