Google Inc. Thursday announced a new test service that allows people to use mobile phones or handheld devices to tap Google's Web search via text messages, or short message service.
Called Google SMS, the service is the newly public company's broadest push yet in the mobile market and comes as Google and its rivals in the hotly competitive Web search industry race to expand their reach.
Outlined at http://sms.google.com, it delivers business and residential listings, product prices and dictionary look-up.
Mountain View, California-based Google is not taking a percentage of the 5-cent to 10-cent per-message charge levied by mobile carriers, nor will advertisers influence results.
"In all of these cases you do not pay to be included," Georges Harik, director of Google's incubator Googlettes said, referring to the businesses that show up in the SMS listings.
"We're not charging anything for the service and we have no plans to do so in the near future. We're trying to see if this is compelling enough to get people to use it," he said.
With the service, a hungry tourist in San Francisco could find a Chinese restaurant by sending Google a text message that reads "chinese san francisco ca" or by including a ZIP code locater such as "chinese 94104." Google would then send back a text message with information from Google's local search.
Shoppers could pull pricing information on 4-megapixel digital cameras from Google's online comparison shopping engine, Froogle, by sending a message that reads "price digital camera 4mp." Google Local and Froogle are also in beta.
Google SMS currently works with the top six U.S. wireless providers including Cingular Wireless , Verizon Wireless and Sprint . The service does not work outside of the United States as Google as yet to expand its local search services overseas.
Text messaging, which works on most mobile phones now on the market, is still growing in popularity in the United States but has been widely used in Europe for years. While analysts were not blown away by the widely available technology, they said the move would probably be good for Google.
"It gives people that are heavily reliant on Google's services the ability to extend the use beyond their PC to their phone," said Yankee Group senior analyst Linda Barrabee.
Analysts said Google is certain to face competition in the future as mobile providers upgrade their networks and use the Web to deliver increasingly sophisticated information to mobile phones. For example, maps and menus could be shown on phones via the Internet, one analyst said.
Nevertheless, IDC research manager Keith Waryas, said such changes take time. "This is probably going to be quite a valuable service in the short term."