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Even With China Deal, Google's Got A Tough Sell In Mobile Search

Its deal with the world's largest mobile service company is a nice start, though

China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou's all Google-y

China Mobile chairman Wang Jianzhou's all Google-y

Photo by Kin Cheung/AP
Google now has the world's largest provider of mobile-phone service, China Mobile, as a partner. But mobile search has far to go to be more than the niche service it is today.

China's a fine place to start, though. China Mobile, with about 300 million subscribers, including 4.6 million added in November, has the reach to spur mobile search. The deal means China Mobile will use its portal to give customers access to Google search. There's competition: Nokia agreed to put an icon on its phones for Chinese search rival Baidu's mobile services.

The Chinese are more keen on mobile search than U.S. users, says Yankee Group analyst X.J. Wang. Still, most searches are for ring tones or screen wallpaper, not ad-friendly categories like restaurants and shops.

U.S. mobile search is even more nascent, with both the service options and the screen interfaces falling short of what it will take to get Americans interested. "But the ramp is developing and it will certainly be much more common in two to three years' time," says Gartner analyst Tole Hart. Google must hope this is another emerging mobile technology that takes off in Asia, then finds its way to the United States.