More From Microsoft: Maps and Mobile

Microsoft of late has exercised a Google-esque frequency of announcements for online products. After upgrades to Live Search and MSN Video in and around the recent Searchification event, the company last night announced enhancements to Live Search for Mobile and Live Search Maps.

The Live Search Maps end of things mostly involves better mapping capabilities including 3D coverage of more than 80 percent of the U.S. and 50 percent of Europe (totaling about 200 cities). There are also enhanced driving directions and local listings and content, including user reviews.

“We’ve done work to really start focusing on the actions that people want to take and started to pull together more relevant information on local business listings,” said Brad Goldberg, Live Search general manager, whom I spoke with last week. “This will happen through a combination of information that we get via crawl and feeds that we ingest that can aggregate opinion indexes and give additional information.”

This is part of the overall Live Search improvements, according to Goldberg, which include a 4x increase to its search index (now includes 20 billion pages) as well as changes to its relevance algorithms that take into account evolving user behavior and the trend toward blended search (or “universal search” in Google-ese).

More significant in my mind are some of the mobile enhancements bundled in this event. Included are a voice search feature in Live Search for Windows Mobile (likely utilizing Tellme technology) and a new 411 product (definitely utilizing Tellme technology). The latter is probably the most notable part of the announcement, though it won’t get the most media play.

From the release:

Live Search 411: Jointly developed with Tellme, acquired by Microsoft earlier this year, a new toll-free number will be available for anyone using any kind of phone to access the power of Live Search. Simply dial 1-800-CALL-411 and say the city and state, then ask for the business or business category to hear a list of options. Say “Connect Me,” to instantly connect to the business, or if using a cell phone, ask for a text message, and a link to a map of the business will be sent to your phone.

Sound familiar? Google’s free 411 product does the same thing, right down to the map link. But that’s not to say that Microsoft is behind the curve or is following Google down the DA path. The company’s acquisition of Tellme — a great company that will bring MSFT a lot of value in its technology for voice automated mobile search — in fact preceded the launch of Goog411. MSFT should accordingly be given credit for seeing early that voice search and automated free DA will hold a lot of opportunity as a standalone product as well as a component of an overall local search strategy that includes mobile and online.

As we’ve mentioned in the past, GOOG-411 has incited interest and mainstream exposure (partly via billboards) in free DA, and will push the overall medium forward by getting the idea into consumers’ heads (finally) that there is an easy alternative to paying 2 bucks for a carrier-delivered 411 call. Microsoft’s new product should do the same to a certain degree. The demand that results could incite a veritable land grab for free DA market share — an overall pie that will grow as explored in TKG’s recently released Mobile Market View survey and U.S. Mobile Advertising Forecast.

The rest of the Microsoft release is here.

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