Mobile Search Face-Off: Bing vs. Google vs. Yahoo

Local Restaurant Search

The Yahoo app's interface may be plain, and it may lack many of its rivals' extra search options, but it definitely excels in one area: finding top-notch local restaurants. We used the three mobile apps to search for restaurants, using queries such as 'best mexican restaurants' and 'best italian restaurants boston'.

Yahoo's mobile search app handled our restaurant search queries extremely well.
When we omitted a city name in the query, all three apps defaulted to showing us general Web results--and none of the first results were local. The top results for our Mexican restaurant query led us to information about eateries in Dallas, Los Angeles, and Chicago, for example (searches were conducted in Boston, MA) without signing into user accounts.

Both Bing and Google did supply local results in their search results, but only after we scanned through the top national results. Yahoo fared even worse, forcing us to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page before we found anything nearby--and even then we had to click a link to get the information we wanted on local businesses. But taking the time for those extra clicks proved worthwhile, as Yahoo's local results bested its rivals': The Yahoo mobile app was the only one of the we tested that actually recommended the restaurants closest to our current location, and it offered an excellent set of options, too.

When we included the city name in our query, all three search engines defaulted to show local results, using our current location as detected by the phone. On all three apps, we clicked to focus our search on local results, and were able to view restaurants by location and to read user reviews. Bing and Google added a multitude of options, such as searching by location, refining the search by category, and linking to additional categories, such as bars and nightclubs, that might be part of a complete night on the town. In our search for the best restaurants close by, however, Yahoo again came out on top, recommending top-notch restaurants that were very near our current location.

Favorite local dining companion: Yahoo.

Local Movie Search

Yahoo didn't fare as well when it came to finding movie showtimes and tickets for the Universal Pictures movie Dr. Seuss' The Lorax. We used all three apps to search for 'the lorax tickets', but were disappointed with the results.

Bing's mobile search app did a nice job with our movie search query once we included the term 'showtime'..
The mobile Bing app's movie search reported that it couldn't find any results for that query; however, its Web search returned links to MovieTickets.com, where we could buy tickets after several clicks. Yahoo's lackluster results were on a par with Bing's. Google fared slightly better: It recognized that I was searching for information about The Lorax movie, and delivered a list of theaters and showtimes. Still, I had to click several times before I could buy tickets.

Refining the query to search for 'the lorax showtimes' delivered better results. This time all three apps recognized that I was searching for information about a movie. Yahoo's results focused on the movie itself, and as a result I found information about the cast and the director before seeing any information on local theaters or showtimes. Google and Bing, meanwhile, excelled on this search: Both apps delivered a page with information about the movie, local theaters, and showtimes. Bing gained a slight edge overall with its more attractive interface and its ability to tell me exactly how many hours and minutes I had until the next show.

Favorite movie buddy: Bing.

Shop, Shops, and Shopping

Yahoo's shopping capabilities failed to impress, which isn't surprising when you consider that it was the only mobile app of the three we tested that doesn't include a dedicated shopping feature. But Bing, which highlights its deals and shopping sections, stumbled here, too. We tested the apps by submitting queries that included product names, such as 'iphone 4s prices' and 'just dance 3'. In both of those instances, Yahoo's results didn't include any shopping information, instead offering news articles and basic Web links related to the products.

Bing and Google recognized that we were searching for products. Though they included some more-general information on the products, both apps were able to direct us to links where we could buy the items in question. However, Bing's focus was more on online search than offline: it offered plenty of links to online retailers, and made it easy to compare prices across different sites. In contrast, Google pointed us to local retailers that had the products in stock, allowing us to compare prices and get driving directions to the store. Our Bing search for Just Dance 3, for example, returned no local results, and its shopping results pointed only to online retailers. The same search on Google pointed us to 22 nearby retailers that had the video game in stock, with prices and directions to each.

Shop local favorite: Google.

Searching for a Winner

Mobile search apps: Bing, Google, and Yahoo.
Our tests revealed what many of you may have suspected all along: No search app is perfect--or even better than the competition at everything. Relying on a single search app or search engine for all of your queries isn't necessarily the smartest way to go, though it may be the easiest. But with so many search apps and services out there, why pick just one?

Using the mobile Bing, Google, or Yahoo app for all of the different types of searches you conduct is like buying everything you need at the mall. Sure, you might be able to find everything you need, but sometimes you'll be better served by visiting a specialty shop. That's when a restaurant search engine, like Restaurant Finder, or a shopping app, like Red Laser or Milo Local Shopping, can be just what you need.

There's certainly no shortage of mobile apps available. And the abundance of options is just one of the perks of mobile apps. Another is the fact that their makers are constantly updating them. That means the search that delivers less-than-helpful results today could prove fruitful tomorrow. Or so we can hope.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments