The Windows Phone 7 Reviewby Anand Lal Shimpi & Brian Klug on October 20, 2010 7:00 PM EST
Bing Search and Maps
Bing is tightly integrated into WP7. One needs to look no further than the inclusion of a dedicated (mandatory) button for search just to tell how serious Microsoft is about pushing Bing into the mobile search space with WP7.
I talked earlier about how entering a string into the URL bar in Internet Explorer takes you out of the browser, into search, and then back depending on whether you choose a web result or not. In almost every context (save the marketplace, here search searches the market), pressing the physical search button launches this unified search application.
Bing search and maps honestly hasn’t changed much since I saw it at MIX10, and it really didn’t need to as far as basic maps and search go. Hit the button, and you get a Bing homepage like screen with the daily wallpaper and factoid boxes.
Search terms still pop up differing levels of semantic data - type a company and “stock quote,” and it’ll probably bring that down. Type “pizza in” and a city name, and you’ll get location results. It’s nice to see some intelligence here with searching. You can pivot between web, local, and news. Hit a link on web, and you wind up in the browser. Hit one in local, and you’ll probably wind up in maps. Whether or not you like Bing, the execution here is pretty above average.
What’s lacking is the ability to search local stores like the SMS library or email accounts. It’s sort of ambiguous anymore on every platform what search really does. WebOS has type anywhere, iOS has a mobile spotlight type approach, and Android does a pretty good job searching everything tied to your google account and web.
For whatever reason, WP7 only seems to want to search web facing content most of the time. Hop into messaging, hit search, and you get taken to Bing. Hop into mail, search, and you’ll search email you’ve downloaded - not what’s up on your exchange or IMAP server. Hop into people, hit search, and you’ll search your contacts, but can also search your exchange contacts. The result is that finding stuff is relegated to specific areas rather than one unified place. Whether or not this is right is more of a philosophical argument, it just happens to work that way here.
Another huge omission is the ability to search for things like shipper tracking numbers or unit conversions in Bing. The Bing website allows you to type in a FedEx tracking number or a unit conversion (e.g. 40 pounds in kg), but the search app on Windows Phone won’t give you those results. Given the data already exists on Microsoft’s end, it’s something I’d expect to see down the road.
Microsoft does still have to worry about the bottom line and thus you’ll sometimes see a sponsored search result (similar to what you’d get on a web browser) above your actual results. Microsoft says that the sponsored results will always be limited to one at most.
There’s also voice search support from within Bing and the entire platform. You can tap the microphone icon in Bing, or hold down the Windows button for a few seconds anywhere from WP7. It truthfully works very well for calling contacts, searching simple things, but sadly can’t nail down ‘Anandtech.com’ - that results in ‘Manhunt Xbox Com.’
Finally there’s Bing maps. I had a bad experience with Bing maps on Android. It felt slow and clunky, and initially lacked multitouch support entirely. Thankfully Bing maps on WP7 and home turf is completely diffrerent. It’s fluid, packs multitouch support, and loads quickly.
I think WP7 takes a strong nod from iOS here, going the minimalist route with basic directions, locate me, and search support. Expand the options menu, and you can toggle aerial views and traffic, or clear everything from settings.
Directions works well and is a bit unique. There’s support for walking and driving navigation directions, sadly no public transport. There’s a top window that shows the map as you progress and scroll through the directions in the list box below. Finally at the destination you get Bing’s street view perspective of the destination.
Searching from Bing maps for a location does what you’d expect - flags drop down onto the map. Tapping on these brings up details such as phone, website, and hours if Bing has them. Reviews and nearby and related listings also populate the adjacent pivots.
This is as opportune a time as any to note that the location services on WP7 have continually brought down very speedy location fixes. It’s fast and definitely leverages a location services database like Skyhook or respective databases Apple and Google use. I’m not entirely certain what WP7 is using, or whether Microsoft is rolling its own, but so far I’ve yet to be not be located just as well as I otherwise would be on Android or iOS even inside buildings with no possible way of getting GPS.