In-Car Search: A New Frontier for Mobile Search

Recently, I saw a commercial for the new Toyota Camry. Now, being a car guy it wasn’t the Camry that caught my attention, but rather a new piece of technology inside it – a console with built-in Bing search.

The SEO in me quickly kicked the car guy to the curb. Could this be a new form of mobile search sneaking up behind us at a red light? All I knew was that I wanted the data.

(Auto)Mobile Search

Possibilities spinning in my head, I finally went to the only person I know at Bing:

Twitter conversation with Duane Forrester

From this, a few things were rather clear to me:

    1. They are indeed collecting the data. I mean, why wouldn’t they be? If not, Duane would probably just say so. If this were Google, they’d be collecting it in 57 different flavors and trying to find correlations between search queries and climate control settings. “Hmm, more searches for ‘Ice cream’ were conducted when the air conditioner was engaged… We should present ads for Choco Tacos® when the A/C is on.” (Yea, I see that light bulb above your head).
    2. Microsoft isn’t disclosing any information about it, which leads me to believe there is personal information involved. Working for big-name clients, I learned first hand that the leading prevention of data sharing is the possible exposure of personal information.
    3. Which likely means, they don’t want to scare people away from it. If customers knew one more data point was going to be collected from them, it might dissuade their car purchase.
    4. Duane didn’t catch my Wayne’s World reference. Dang.

…But Rachael did! Rachael Gerson


As for the Bing search technology in the new Toyotas, I understand the following to be true:

  • The search app requires connectivity with a smartphone, so the data will likely be included within the mobile segment in BWMT.
  • Since the data is transferred through a mobile device, I suspect the user agent is that of the device (if captured at all).
  • The app is not browser based, so the SERP is built-in.
  • The queries seem to be limited to local-search, specifically brick and mortar businesses. It could be possible to do informational searches, but right now it seems to be a search-powered physical map. I am assuming (hoping) that this will catch on to the point of an actual web browser, enabling regular search functionality.

Since it’s November, here’s a video explaining the Bing app from a guy with a mustache:

This is all very interesting because if this data were broken out, it would provide further insight into the local/transactional intent type. One thing I know is that this technology will become more popular if the interface and quality of results are positive. Bing specifically is capturing the hearts of more people every month, and new cars are purchased every day. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the Camry is arguably the most popular car in America.

What’s So Special About In-Car Search?

Consider the following situation:

Whenever I’m on a date, and we’re trying to decide where to go,  the conversation is a back and forth exchange of “I don’t know, what do you want to eat?” –until one of us pulls out a Smartphone. Now, instead of driving and holding the phone, with one eye on the road and another on the device, I make a suggestion, she suggests another, and there we go – not the safest thing to do behind the wheel. Friends don’t let friends search and drive. If this event took place on the console’s display instead, we could both see the information safely, right in front of us. The reviews would be visible to both of us, and on a larger screen at that. The moment turns from a mild stressor to one of cohesive decision-making.

Now consider the opposite scenario, one in which you reserve personal information to your smartphone only. For example, you wouldn’t do online banking through your car’s console, unless you want your passengers to know you’ve got more cheddar than a cheese shop. No way- that’s just bad taste. What I’m suggesting is that some mobile search activities are ripe for a smartphone, while others involve group decision making – changing the search engine from a private information provider into a group or family activity.

Moving Mobile Search From Individuals To Groups

The key difference is that while other appliances might be “smart” enough for search, for example a web-enabled TV, I don’t think anyone actually uses it. Based on data from comScore, people are more likely to have a tablet or smartphone within reach to do their Googling. I see the in-car search capability as a wedge which will drive apart different types of search intent, making the lines between mobile devices and their various uses more salient.

Based on current mobile trends, we already know most mobile queries are local and transactional in nature. Searching from a car’s console might help distill this information even further. Traditionally, these location and informational queries are combined into one search medium through a smartphone, whereas the separate GPS and search apps in a car provides an opportunity for segmentation.

I see the in-car search medium as a potential niche search engine, and if it does take hold, the volumes will warrant optimization- just as people optimize for other niche search engines like the App Store. Optimization for in-car search is worth paying attention to, especially for local search gurus (and especially if the majority are transactional in nature).

2 thoughts on “In-Car Search: A New Frontier for Mobile Search”

  1. This Visual Search is kind of frustrating bcasuee you can’t search anything: you can just browse some Bing categories ! I guess most people will not understand what’s the real added value here except a nice scrolling animation ?

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