Thomson/GE Speed Dials GOOG411 at CES

One of the featured products at this year's Consumer Electronics Show introduces simplified access to free directory assistance from a fixed line telephone. A GE-branded cordless home phone (model # DECT 6.0) features single-button, speed-dial access to GOOG-411 (normally accessed by dialing 1-800-GOOG411). This is a hardware-based, preemptive strike resulting from a partnership between one of the leading providers of cordless phones and the undisputed leader in Web-based search.

Google introduced GOOG411 roughly a year ago as its brand of speech-enabled mobile search. It has not yet added the sorts of audio-based advertising that provide an obvious revenue model around category search and location-based marketing. Instead, Google is still in development mode, introducing a trialling a multiplicity of access methodologies for its local search service. The button is hard-wired into the GE handset, but it could just as easily be rendered as a soft-key or widget on the touch-sensitive screens of forthcoming smartphones.

Meanwhile, because automatic connection is baked into GOOG411, it should not be long before DECT 6.0 owners begin to use the button as an intelligent speed dialer. The good news is that the original query is through a tool free number and, thanks to IP connectivity, Google provides call completion for free.

Single button access, offered by Google and others, are poised to change long established user behaviors, like dialing 411 or longer, toll-free access numbers. This is a major threat to incumbent, fixed line DA providers that generated something like $3.5 billion in highly profitable revenue from roughly 4 billion calls last year. Meanwhile, thanks largely to the fact that Google has yet to attach either connection fees nor promotional charges to its service, advertiser supported, "free" DA services generated less than $20 million in top line revenue.

The partnership with Thomson/GE shows that Google will pursue a number of avenues to generate more call origination. No firm has been better at converting activity to revenue and profits.