According to Toronto-based Kickvox mobile search is ‘broken,’ with existing technologies still having been built and optimized for desktop and not considerate of the limited screen real estate and mobile user interaction. Taking that into consideration, the company announced today the launch of its iOS and Android application, taking a mobile-first, visual approach to search in order to provide users with what it calls a visually categorized and integrated experience.
“The reason we thought it [mobile search] was broken was because every other industry was evolving and for the last 15 years, search has still stayed pretty much the same,” said co-founder and CEO Alan Nowogrodski in an interview with BetaKit. “The way we search has changed, we used to use a computer, now we use the phone, we used to search at home, now we’re searching while walking on the street, taking a bus, the way we search for things and type is dramatically different.”
To take that new reality into account the company decided to research how mobile search might be made more effective, which eventually resulted in discovering that visual-based search was more effective than text-based search (although the company is still waiting to gather more data before releasing exactly how much more effective it may be) and started working on Kickvox.
After downloading the app and typing keywords into the search bar, users start seeing search results, all from integrated applications ranging from Yelp, Wikipedia, Yahoo!, and Rotten Tomatoes, among others. Similar to Google, users can search the web, for news, and for images and videos, or browse through mobile-friendly sites in categories including shopping, money, and travel. Search results are displayed as app-like icons, with more results as they scroll down. Its navigation lets users jump to additional search results, and click through the next results without having to go back to the search page.
For example if someone was searching online for The Hobbit, they would see icons displayed for IMDb, Wikipedia, Amazon, and Yahoo!, with a Wikipedia description displayed below those icons. They could scroll down to find the official movie website, and click through for more info, scrolling through other results until they found the information they wanted.
To power its search results, the company partners with Microsoft’s Bing search engine, however is also actively working with Yahoo! and Google for certain features. When asked about what prevents the search giants from switching to a more visual approach for their mobile search, Nowogrodski said he believes because their user base is already familiar with their user interface, it would be too drastic of a switch, and their profits are dependent on selling keyword advertising. Nonetheless, Google has taken measurable steps to improve the mobile search experience, having recently introduced Siri-like functionality to its iOS app, and previously releasing Google Now for Android. The one thing Kickvox will stick to in regards to traditional search platforms is looking to search ads as its primary source of revenue.
Other startups like Hubbl are also looking to tackle search and discovery with its visual approach to helping users find apps, although the Apple App Store also got a visual search overhaul with the release of iOS 6. Another Y Combinator-backed company, Swiftype, aims to enhance the search experience on any given website, though it’s currently not focused on mobile. While there is certainly a trend towards mobile-first experiences, which also includes mobile search, the app requires that users download, open and use a separate app, rather than defaulting to their mobile browser. It will have to work hard to wrestle users away from their habits of turning to Google for their queries, or whatever mobile browser comes pre-installed on their smartphone.