From tuesday, British mobile phone users will be able to access Google’s news and email services using their handsets and personalise their own mobile version of the search engine’s homepage, as the American company pushes ever further into the mobile internet.
Google has become increasingly excited about the internet on mobile phones as it sees growth in mobile handset sales far outstripping the growth in sales of computers. Deep Nishar, Google’s head of mobile products, said: « There are roughly twice the number of mobile devices in the world as there are PCs and the number of mobile devices is growing faster than PCs. In many emerging markets the only way that people are able to access the world’s information is through mobile phones. »
Until recently the mobile phone companies tried to steer users towards specific mobile web sites, trying to earn extra revenues from downloadable content such as music and ringtones. But a lack of consumer take-up has forced them to reassess their role in the mobile internet, accepting that consumers do not want to navigate complex operator-run portals, but go straight to the web sites they already know, albeit repurposed for a mobile’s small screen. Google’s search screen is already, for instance, the homepage for users of T-Mobile’s Web’n’Walk service.
Mr Nishar denied that offering Gmail, Google News and a personalised Google homepage regardless of which mobile network a customer uses, is an attempt to further sideline the mobile phone companies. Google has partnerships in the mobile space with several operators including T-Mobile and Vodafone and handset makers such as Motorola and SonyEricsson. « We think this actually enhances our relationship with operators and device manufacturers, » he said. « Because it gives consumers yet another reason to consume mobile data services. » While the services are being offered by Google free, users will be charged for data calls made to access them by their mobile network.
Google News looks set to become the de facto news site for most mobile internet users. Already available in the US, it has been launched tuesday across the UK, France, Germany and Spain. As well as providing users with the option to browse through quick links to specific news categories such as business, science and technology and sport, the news stories that appear will only be from sources whose content has been designed for viewing on a mobile phone. Google reckons that most phones bought within the last few years will be able to access Google News, Gmail and the personalised Google homepage.