With the closure of Bing Cashback, which gave discounts just for shopping through Bing, Microsoft's search engine lost a major advantage over Google. Both sites' shopping sections show product details, reviews, and a list of retailers, but I noticed some funky things about Bing. When searching for Apple's iPad or the new video game Halo: Reach, Bing didn't list major retailers such as Amazon and Target. (Google did.) And when I looked for a "bar set," Google returned the appropriate items -- shakers, ice tongs and such -- while Bing spit out mostly furniture. But Google's biggest advantage is a shopping list feature (the "My Shopping List" link at the top right of the Shopping page), where you can mark items for later perusal or purchase.
Bing's iPhone app is more search-oriented than Google's app, which focuses on services such as Mail and Apps, so let's just consider their mobile Websites instead. Bing has a slicker mobile Web interface than Google does, with a selection of categories you might be inclined to search on the go (local, maps, directions, movies and weather), but it suffers from a critical flaw: Plain old search results stink. Unlike Google, there are no contextual results in the stream, such as news, images and video, and bulky ads clutter the search field. Fancy features mean nothing when you flub the basics.
Famous people, such as movie stars, get special status on Bing, with their tweets appearing in relevant searches. Otherwise, Bing Social is a plain mix of trending topics and recent status updates. Google, by comparison, pulls from your own social circle, and search options are more robust, allowing you to search through time for status updates, get e-mail alerts for updates, and narrow by location.
Despite what I wrote before about Google's focus on links, rather than information, both engines sometimes serve up cold, hard facts above their search results. Both engines have the essentials, like currency conversion, calculations, dictionary definitions, sports scores, and stock prices. But Google has a few extras, like sunrise and sunset times, recent earthquake information, and numbers for poison control and suicide prevention. The amount and type of instant answers available are always subject to change, but Google has the edge for now.
Bing's recent push to become an entertainment hub is impressive, with songs, lyrics, and images, and even full television episodes and casual games appearing in search results. Bing also offers Visual Search, a fun mash-up of images and information that looks pretty cool, though I haven't felt compelled to actually use it.
As for Google, I'd be remiss not to mention the very new Google Instant, a drastic change to the main search engine that displays and alters search results as you type. Though I've yet to decide whether it's useful to me (by habit, I still complete my thought and hit "Enter"), it's technically impressive, and fortunately, you can easily switch it off. Google's strongest wild cards, however, are services like Docs, Gmail, Reader, and YouTube. Because these useful services are always accessible from Google's top navigation bar, it helps to make Google's Websites "stickier" as a whole.
And the Winner is ...
The contest wasn't completely one-sided. I'm impressed by Bing Maps and Video, and puzzled that Google has no answer to Bing Travel and Events. Still, Google was superior in more categories, especially the ones that count most, like search, news, and mobile.
For business users especially, Google's stronger search tools are more useful than Bing's instant answers. Searching for results within a date range is invaluable when trying to find published reports that are years old--and when you're looking for Websites with reliable information, getting more links from Google is better than Bing's constant suggestions and interjections.
Perhaps the best measure of all is personal experience. Like most people, my primary search engine is Google, but I switched to Bing for a week while writing this feature. Now that it's in the can, I'm ready to switch back.