Bing's new look and feel, Microsoft's marketing gurus tell us, is all about using Bing out of the box. It's a laudable goal, but will enough mobile users actually get to experience the new design announced today to appreciate it?
The new look for Microsoft's search engine is not actually out on the Bing home page yet—buried in the release information is the fact that this will be rolled out in the U.S. over the coming weeks. The new redesign will include an updated Snapshot feature that encapsulates information about the search topic, as will as making more relevant information highlighted with bigger fonts at the top of the search results.
Most importantly, the search features of Bing will be more tightly integrated within Microsoft platforms, such as Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox devices, which will ideally start providing a knowledge layer for users that offers them robust information even as other tasks are performed. Look up travel fares to another city, for instance, and you should see weather information for that city pop up.
This kind of pushed content is very much keeping in line with what Bing is moving towards. Bing's team has been building a database that is built on connections, not just indexed links. Ideally, such connections will lead to actions. If you search for a new auto repair shop, for instance, one day the search engine could suggest an appointment time for you, based on your existing schedule. At the very least, Bing wants to provide users with information for which they might not have thought to look.
Along those lines, there are some interesting new features that I am looking forward to seeing. The Page Zero feature, which promises to populate the screen with known search results to start the search process rolling before the first "actual" search results screen is displayed, is certainly one of them.
The rollout is a bit heavy on the marketing side, to the point of being distracting. In a related blog post, Microsoft spends an inordinate amount of time going over the cool new typography of the fonts and the design of the new logo. While no one wants to take away from the hard work that Scott Erickson, Senior Director, Brand and Creative at Microsoft and his branding team does, I tend to get a little suspicious about substance over form when I read passages like this in product blogs:
Our hero color is Orange 124 and our primary palette was chosen to embody the characteristics that those colors usually evoke – clarity, confidence and warmth. Having a strong sense of color and living within a vibrant corporate palette allows us to clarify our identity without losing the freedom to explore and express ourselves in new ways.
Bing's Mobile Problem
Bing has a lot more going for it than people think under the hood, and it really shouldn't need this kind of dressing up. But it does, for the simple reason that people need to hear what Bing can do.
Many of these changes, after all, will be well-woven into the Microsoft device framework: the aforementioned Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox. The "step out of the [search] box" feature set Microsoft is planning for Bing will work very well on those devices, because Microsoft will be able to tightly integrate Bing on those platforms. But what about all the other non-Microsoft devices out there?
The Bing team acknowledges that Bing will have to perform just as well on iOS and Android devices, and indeed Lawrence Ripsher, General Manager of User Experiences, Bing, makes a point to mention this towards the conclusion of his blog entry:
Results should look as beautiful on a Surface or iPad as they do on a PC or phone. Our new platform will enable us to improve experiences across an ever growing range of devices, like mobile. In fact we recently announced a revamped experience as part of Windows Phone and this release will leverage those improvements to will bring them to all mobile devices.
This addresses the display of search results, but what about the tight integration with the user's device that Bing gets on Windows Phone and XBox machines? If you think Apple and Google will allow Bing to supplant its services on its respective iOS and Android devices, think again—it will still be a Siri and Google Now world for them.
Without that integration, Bing's user experience will be limited on those other platforms. On Android and iOS, Bing will be just another search app, still stuck in the box that Bing is trying to escape.
Bing logo courtesy of Microsoft