Mobile search revenues are projected to more than triple worldwide in the next six years, from $1.5 billion in 2008 to $4.8 billion in 2013, according to research firm Juniper Research. That’s good news for search companies like Google (GOOG) and Yahoo (YHOO), which are counting on the mobile Web as a key source of growth.
But for that to happen, more people need to start using mobile search — fast. In the U.S., just 6% of mobile subscribers use search on their phones, according to research firm M:Metrics.
How will that change? Phone companies need to make browsing the mobile Web an easier and more compelling activity by investing in better Web browsers and user interfaces for their phones. Browsing the mobile Web — and using mobile search — is still a brutal chore on most phones.
We already know what works: U.S. smartphone owners, who typically have better Web browsers (and, just as important, are more likely to subscribe to mobile Web access) are six times more likely than the average wireless subscriber to use a search engine on their phones.
But the best model we’ve seen so far: Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, which has a clean user interface, a powerful browser, built-in Web access subscription, and a deal with Google to put its search function right in the phone’s browser window. Almost 60% of iPhone owners use mobile search — 10 times more than the average mobile subscriber — and Google says that Apple’s iPhone accounted for 50 times more mobile searches than any other handset.