Bing iPhone App Offers Great 'All-in-One' Utility

Yesterday Microsoft held a Bing Search Summit in San Francisco. A whole boatload of upgrades were delivered including for the Bing iPhone and Android apps. Where Google has several apps or sites, Bing is trying to do a ton of stuff with its single app. Overall it's a terrific all-in-one app. They've really done a nice job and created a truly viable alternative to Google. The only thing not present is turn-by-turn navigation.

Here's the laundry list of upgrades and new features in the iPhone release: 

  • Auto suggest: Bing intelligently narrows and refines restaurant and movie searches by suggesting query strings to help people plan the perfect night out.
  • Bing Vision: Bring an object into the [camera] viewfinder, hold it still and Bing will detect text and present a highlighter tool to select words for a search. If the object has a barcode, Bing will instantly return product results. Search for a nearby business listing by pointing your camera at a landmark.
  • Check-in: Share your current location with friends and family via Facebook, foursquare or Windows Live Activity Stream.
  • iPhone Apps: Surfaces iPhone apps in search results, when relevant.
  • Plans: From the Bing homepage or a local search result, people can plan a night out and share the plan with friends via Facebook, who can comment or join the plan.
  • Opentable and Grubhub integration: With the integration of Opentable and Grubhub into Bing for Mobile, once you find your restaurant of choice, you can reserve a table on OpenTable or order takeout from Grubhub without leaving the Bing app.
  • Real-Time Transit Predictions: Real-time updates for Boston, San Francisco and Seattle allow commuters to see if transit options are on schedule, early or delayed, with predictions for arrival times.
  • Reminders: Create a “to-do” list and set reminders to receive alerts when near a specific location.
  • Enhanced StreetSide: Helps people orient themselves in unfamiliar places by stitching together and panning across street-level imagery of businesses, addresses or landmarks.

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The "plans" feature is novel and uses Facebook to communicate suggestions to friends and family. The Check-in feature enables a Facebook or Foursquare check-in or both simultaneously.

Bing Vision is the equivalent of Google Goggles or Google Shopper with visual product search. Bing already had a barcode scanning capability and this is an enhancement with OCR built in. In my informal side-by-side testing of Bing Vision against Google Shopper's similar capability Google shopper performed slightly better and recognized more products more quickly. 

Street Side is both "cool" and useful and is similar to Google's Street View. There are some things that one can do with Street Side that can't be done with Street View, but the offerings are similar. In Bing, Street Side is accessible from local business profile pages. Bing is also completely voice-enabled (powered by Tellme).

Microsoft is making the HTML5 mobile site more and more app-like and over time will likely concentrate on improving that experience rather than building separate apps for multiple platforms. 

The challenge for Microsoft is making users aware of all these capabilities and their benefits. The company needs to focus on one or two "wow" or differentiated features to motivate downloads -- the iPhone app is actually pretty popular -- and then let consumer discover all the other stuff they can do with the app on their own.