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Ask.com now searchable on mobiles

Search engine looks beyond the PC

Ask.com has developed a set of browser-based search services for US mobile devices that lets users find websites, directions, images, maps, business listings and weather information.

People will also be able to find area codes, check time zones and call up horoscope entries, as well as convert currencies. The company will increase this initial set of services to include others it currently offers only to PC users.

The move is the latest by a major internet search provider to extend its services to mobile phones and other mobile devices. Google, Yahoo and others also offer such services.

People's desire to use search engines from cell phones is growing rapidly, as handsets and wireless internet connections become cheaper and more powerful.

The convenience of accessing search services via mobile devices is an obvious one, even if the technical barriers are only recently starting to fall. It's clearly useful for people to call up a search engine to seek product information if they are at a store or to obtain driving directions while on the road.

The mobile market is nascent and, as such, represents a new frontier and opportunity, as opposed to the PC-based search market dominated by Google. In August, Google handled 44 percent of all US queries, according to comScore Networks. Yahoo came in a distant second place with almost 29 percent. Ask.com ranked fifth with only 5.5 percent.

Ask.com's mobile search services are expected to go live today and should be accessible from any device in the US with a mobile browser and with unrestricted access to the web, said Doug Leeds, Ask.com's vice president of product management.

Ask.com reformats all the web pages it links to from its results so that they will be rendered properly on a mobile screen, Leeds said.

The Ask.com mobile services include advanced features such as automatically generated alternate queries to narrow or expand the scope of the search. Ask.com also delivers along with the results a list of names related by topic to the query.

Ask.com is also providing its "smart answers" feature, which consolidates information from various sources in a single entry at the top of the results list.

The services are free and don't include ads, but carriers may apply charges related to the internet connection and data transmission, he said.

One mobile search area in which Ask.com still lacks representation is in the text message space. For example, Google allows users to tap into some of its search engines by sending a text query to the company from a mobile device.

Ask.com may consider providing text-message searching if it determines there is enough demand for it, Leeds said. For now, people need a device with a mobile browser to access the Ask.com search engines.

People who visit Ask.com's mobile search page will also find a link to its Bloglines syndicated feed reader, which has had a mobile version for a while.

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