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Ask Launches Mobile Search

Ask.com launched their mobile search product at Digital Life yesterday, and I had the priviledge of running into Gary Price a few hours ago and getting a demo out of him at the Ask booth. Ask is quickly getting a reputation as a company that takes established products and finds ways to innovate their features beyond what the competition is offering, and Ask Mobile is no exception.

You can see Ask Mobile exactly as it would look on a mobile phone by going to m.ask.com from any web browser. To get to it on your phone, you can go to the URL, or just head to ask.com and be automatically redirected. The home page has seven options:

There’s also a next link that pulls up area code search (enormously useful on any mobile device, obviously), currency conversion, horoscopes, and a feature that shows you the current time for any place you search. Any external link you click is sent through Skweezer, which reformats the pages for smaller screens.

Do a web search, and in many cases you’ll see a picture relevant to your search (especially if you search for a person or place), as well as an excerpt from Wikipedia. Rather than just reformatting search results for a phone, Ask Mobile brings with it one of Ask’s best features, the Zoom feature that expands or narrows your focus. This feature is actually more discoverable and useful on a phone than it is on the web, saving you lots of typing. They also keep track of your recent searches via a cookie, displaying the last few on the search page if you need to get something back.

The directions search does a good job reformatting your searches to fit the proper maps syntax, really helpful when I deliberately omitted portions of an address. Most maps ask you for a correction, but Ask’s understands that time and bandwidth is a factor, and tries to eliminate extra work. It shows you either driving or walking directions, and features a brilliant turn-by-turn feature.

In that feature, once you have your directions, you select “By Turn” and it gives you each step of your journey as a seperate screen, letting you page deliberately through your trip. The turn-by-turn alone makes me want to give them a big smooch. Oh, and they feature the satellite maps in their directions, something very difficult to do with certain other mobile search engines without a Java application. Ask uses straight up normal HTML, so there isn’t a mobile browser out there that can’t handle this. You can also select to send the directions to your phone as a text message, great for saving them for later (and not having to keep the browser open the whole time).

I like that the Maps application shares search history with Directions. It’s just easier that way. The Bloglines link goes to Bloglines Mobile, already a great mobile RSS reader. The horoscopes say:

Mother yourself right now. Just because you’re normally a go-go-go type doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some slow-slow-slow. Put on a fluffy bathrobe, grab a good book and unplug the phone. You’re in do-not-disturb mode!

Sounds good to me!

While Ask didn’t invent mobile, it shows some real smarts with its implementation, adding features no one has and keeping in mind at every step how to make life easier for the user. I hope users are taking notice, because there are some exciting things afoot at Ask. I know that Google’s mobile offerings have never worked well for me, so I’m going to give Ask a shot at displacing my usual Microsoft mobile services, and it wouldn’t be crazy for everyone else to try the same.

October 13th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Ask, DigitalLife, Consumer Products, Search, General | 6 comments



Palm Treo 680 Press Conference

I was at Palm’s press conference yesterday at Digital Life where they unveiled the Treo 680, and while I won’t be able to get my video of it online until next week, here are my notes.

Palm unveiled at their Digital Life press conference the new (and expected) Treo 680, an update that falls feature-wise betweeen the 650 and 700 that adds mass-market appeal. It comes in four “exciting” colors, including iPod “Arctic” white. It plays MP3s, and supports streaming audio (like internet radio) and streaming video. It comes with a wired car kit, a bundle choice that clearly is trying to appeal to a younger audience and highlight the audio features. There are some simplified UI elements, including customizable tabs and wallpapers, similar to the Windows Mobile Today screen.

A “new” feature lets you add a number that called you to an existing contact. Because, you know, my crap 2002 phone couldn’t do that :-). Of course, it is part of many improvements to the email and contacts, including Exchange ActiveSync of contacts, and smart addressing for contacts you’ve recently emailed but aren’t in your contact list.

The MP3 player is called Pocket Tunes, and can be upgraded to support DRM protected content. Voice memos can be used as a ringtone. It is thinner and lighter than other Treos, partially because of a smaller battery. Pocket Tunes looks very similar to any typical media player, and comes with 30 free days of yahoo music unlimited.

One of their apps tracks text messages in a threaded view, very similar to how gmail tracks conversations. There is also a TypePad blog posting interface. it also includes the new Google Maps application, which includes traffic information as well as the satelite view.

For now, Palm reaches mobile professionals and prosumers, and they admit that the 680 is designed to reach regular consumers, and it is a significantly larger market. They are trying to appeal to them with brands they recognize and trust, like Google and Yahoo. The goal is to be “more releavant to more people around the world”, and it is exactly what I think Palm needs to do to grow as a company and hold back rival companies.

One other thing: After the conference, Palm handed out bags that contained, among other things, a 1-gigabyte SD card. Sweet. I shoulda grabbed two.

As for the Google Maps I mentioned, Google unveiled yesterday an improved version of Maps for the Treo. It is the best looking mobile version yet, with satellite maps, map dragging, and translucent popup balloons.

October 13th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | DigitalLife, Consumer Products, General | one comment

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Digital Life Video Preview: UTStarcom

If you’re wondering why posting has been sporadic the last day, it’s because I’ve been attending the huge Digital Life show at the Javits Center in New York. I’ve been shooting a lot of video, and will be uploading a lot of stuff in the coming weeks. Here’s something from earlier this week, at a preview show, where UTStarcom showed off some new phones.

The first phone is the G’zOne, which they’ve made for Casio. It’s a rugged, durable phone, with a 2.0 megapixel image/video camera, but the feature that made me excited is that it is water resistant up to 30 minutes. In the video, the rep dials her own cell phone, then tosses the G’zOne in a fish bowl full of water. The call goes through, as you can see. At the show yesterday, I tried the camera underwater, and the picture quality, in the water, is still excellent (better than my phone when dry).

The second is the Slice, a phone for Virgin Mobile’s prepaid service. At 0.4 inches thick, it is the thinnest phone available without a contract, and it costs just $49.99. It is a high quality phone, with a smooth keypad like the RAZR, an the feel of it is too solid and smooth for that low a price. I was really surprised that it was that cheap, because I’ve paid more for phones that were made out of crap compared to this. Really, just quality construction, it feels expensive. A rep told me yesterday that Target has already started selling them.

According to one person, going back through a series of mergers and other things, UTStarcom used to be mostly Audiovox.

Anyway, I was impressed by their lineup, and if I get my promised review units, you are going to see a lot of fun video with the water-resistant phone. Expect some more stuff after the weekend as I process my hours of video from Digital Life.

October 13th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | DigitalLife, Consumer Products, General | 2 comments

Colbert Wants His Cut

Stephen Colbert explained on his Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, how Google is sending him $700 million as part of its purchase of YouTube.

Congrats, Steven! Now you are finally making more than “cable television money”.
(via Digg)

October 13th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | YouTube, Humor, General | no comments

Google Does Educators Site

Google launched a new site, Google For Educators, which is designed to provide teachers access to Google tools they might find useful in their jobs, as well as lesson ideas, lesson plans and video for how they can be used in the classroom. They’re also holding a Google Teacher Academy event at the Googleplex on November 7, designed to do the same thing. While there’s no doubt some smart use of things like blogging tools, Google Earth, book search, even Google Video, can all be useful in the classroom, we all know this is just about getting more Google products into more hands. And that is a good thing.
(via CNet)

October 13th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General | no comments