Bing for the iPad: Not just a search engine

Microsoft sneaks a Web browser into the App Store, which has excluded the likes of Internet Explorer and Firefox

With the debut Thursday of its Bing for iPad app, Microsoft has done more than introduce another search engine to Apple's tablet, which already has search apps by Google and Yahoo available. It has, in effect, introduced a pseudo-browser to Apple's App Store.

Apple famously does not allow browser apps that are not built on the WebKit rendering engine into the App Store, a policy that rules out bigwig browsers like Internet Explorer and Firefox from appearing as iPhone or iPad apps. So rather than try to create a separate, WebKit-based browser, Microsoft instead is using its Bing search engine to emulate a browser.

The trick is that all content is displayed inside the Bing app. Search results do not open in Safari, the iPad's native browser, but stay in Bing. For example, if a user searches on a particular news topic, the results are displayed in a grid, and if the user touches on one of the grid tiles, the news story is opened -- within Bing. Image search similarly arranges results on a grid and displays them without leaving the app, and voice-search capabilities let users speak their queries instead of having to type them.

"It sort of operates like a browser," said analyst Greg Sterling of Sterling Market Intelligence. "Effectively, from a consumer's standpoint, it is a browser."

The app also happens to be Microsoft's first for the iPad. Microsoft is clearly making a concerted effort to reach beyond the realm of Windows in the exploding mobile space. It has already released apps for archrival Google's Android platform, and now it is looking to get a toehold in Apple's popular iOS ecosystem. If Bing manages to become the search app of choice for iPad users over Google's app, so much the better for Microsoft as it battles for increased search market share.

This article, "Bing for the iPad: Not just a search engine," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.