Microsoft broadens Bing beyond simple search

Following in Google's and Apple's footsteps, Bing is now central service for stitching together Internet-powered services with local apps

Like Google, Microsoft is opening up its Bing search platform for use in application development, offering multiple services beyond search. Following a historical pattern that has spanned from the GUI to the browser and server OS, Microsoft has seen what rivals do and is following it up with similar efforts, hoping it can stake its own claim if not dominate the space altogether.

With its "Bing as a Platform" initiative detailed at the Build developers conference this week, Microsoft extends Bing to enable embedding of services into third-party applications in Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone, and Xbox devices. An accompanying Bing Developer Services initiative offers three categories of capabilities: services to bring entities and information to applications, services enabling applications to deliver natural user experiences such as with voice and speech, and services bringing awareness of the physical world into applications such as with mapping and directories of amenities such as restaurants and museum exhibits. Developer services include the Bing Entity, Bing Optical Character Recognition Control, Bing Speech Control, and Bing Maps 2D/3D APIs.

"These technologies, when integrated into devices and apps, create an 'intelligent fabric,'" said Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Bing, in a blog post. During his Build presentation, Pall showed a travel application accessing back-end services, including speech and maps. "The unbounded knowledge of the Web is now available to your apps." He said apps could use Bing services to not just locate and present such context but also run analytics on them to help tailor the results to the individual user and the current context.

The company introduced Bing Developer Center for accessing Bing services. Microsoft also detailed the Bing Apps for Windows 8.1 Preview, including touch-enabled apps for culinary and health interests. In addition, the Bing Maps app has been updated with improved local search and better integration with other Windows apps.

With its latest Bing efforts, Microsoft is following up Google, which has long augmented its bread-and-butter search platform with services such as Google Search for Android and iOS, Google Maps for mutiple platforms, Google Now for Android, and APIs for services ranging from calendaring to analytics.

In a similar fashion, Microsoft is mimicking Apple, which has been extending its iOS mobile platform to incorporate a variety of services such as maps, navigation, voice-based search, and local directories of amenities, most popularly known via its Siri and Apple Maps services and its newer iOS in the Car initiative. In its forthcoming iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks, Apple is replacing Google Search with Bing as the search engine powering its Siri service. In his Build presentation, Microsoft's Pall noted that fact, suggesting Apple knew something the others didn't about Bing's potential.

Both Google and Apple have been creating a fabric of services that work across their devices, operating systems, and applications, as well as with third-party devices and applications via a growing set of APIs.

"It sounds to me like [Microsoft is] trying to compete with Google's platforms" by integrating capabilities into Bing, said Build attendee Steve Fox, a consultant with Fox Computer. Microsoft's Bing platform efforts elicited mixed feelings from Build attendee Jeff Torkington, CEO of Ontempo, which writes software for retailers: "I'm impressed with the integration across it but also a little disturbed" about being locked into Microsoft, he said. Torkington said he would like to see more openness from the Bing initiative, although he did characterize Microsoft's Bing advances as "seductive."

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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