Microsoft on Monday launched an enhancement to Bing that allows users of the search engine to find certain items by viewing images instead of sifting through pages of text-based Internet links.
For instance, a search on HDTVs yields rows of images of flat-panel televisions. The results can be grouped by manufacturer, display technology, screen size, and resolution. Similarly, a query on new cars renders pictures of various models that are sortable by automaker, mileage, price, and vehicle type.
At present, Bing's visual search engine is in the beta stage and is limited to several search categories predetermined by Microsoft. But company officials believe the technology has big potential and could help Microsoft close the gap with market leader Google.
"It's clear that images play a big part in helping consumers with a variety of search activities," said Bing product manager Todd Schwartz, in a blog post Monday. A study by Microsoft found that consumers can process image results 20% faster than text-only search results, according to Schwartz.
"Visual search is a new way to formulate and refine your search queries through imagery, particularly for sets of results that tend to be more structured," wrote Schwartz. "What you'll see is an amazing new visual search experience," said Schwartz.
Bing's visual search capability, which is powered by Microsoft's Silverlight Web display technology, is the latest sign that Redmond is pulling out all the stops in its effort to catch Google. The company in July announced a far-reaching deal with Yahoo under which Bing will become the primary search engine on Yahoo's Web properties while Microsoft gains the right to add search technology previously developed by Yahoo to Bing.
Still, Microsoft has, to put it mildly, its work cut out. Google holds about 83% of the worldwide search market, according to the most recent numbers from market watcher Net Applications. Yahoo holds 7%, while Microsoft, mostly through Bing, owns a mere 3.5%.
Microsoft isn't giving up. In his blog, Schwartz said the software maker will roll out more new Bing features—including additional visual search capabilities--in the coming months.
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