Bing: Microsoft Search on the iPhone

Most of us rely on Google Maps and Search to get through the day, and never give the choice much thought. Today we’re going to look at the Bing app for iOS and see if it’s worth switching to a new search engine.

In a world where Google is now used as a verb for searching the web, most wouldn’t consider using any other search engine. That’s why Microsoft surprised the world when it released Bing and now they’ve made it accessible even to Apple’s mobile devices with the Bing iPhone app. There’s no such thing as a perfect search engine, so we’ll take you through the Bing app so you can see what it offers and decide for yourself.

What is Bing?

Bing, the new incumbent search engine from Microsoft, has been gaining popularity thanks to its stylish interface and surprisingly competitive marketing. Not only that, but it also works quite well. Bing Maps surprisingly much nicer in some aspects than Google Maps, and the front page images can be fun and educational.

Bing’s iOS app brings all of these features to your iPhone or iPod Touch in a unique, full-featured app. When you first run the app, you’ll be presented with Bing’s picture of the day just like the Bing site includes. Tap the picture itself, and you’ll see small highlighted areas you can tap to find out fun facts and more about the picture.

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Bing features beautiful pictures from around the world

Searching

The Bing app is built around search as you might expect, so you’ll see a search bar on almost every screen in the app. Simply press the top search bar and enter whatever you want to find. Directions, images, shopping, web results, and more are only a tap away. By default, the search bar on the front screen will search the web, so press the search icon to select the type of search you want. Then, as you’re typing, Bing will try to figure out what you’re looking for. Similar to Google Suggestions, this often found what I was looking for before I’d entered the whole search query.

Alternatively, press the microphone icon and say what you want to find. Bing did a great job at recognizing voice queries in my tests, and when it wasn’t certain what I was looking for, it would provide a selection to choose from.

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Voice or text, images or directions, Bing lets you search the way you want.

Depending on your type of search, Bing will display the results differently. Shopping searches show reviews and the cheapest price of products from a multitude of stores. This can be a great way to window-shop from your phone or comparison shop online while you’re in a mall. Web search works just like it would in a browser, and you can visit websites directly without leaving the Bing app if you wish.

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Bing Shopping makes it easy to comparison shop.

Exploring the World With Bing

I really enjoyed Bing Maps and feel that this is the best part of the Bing app. Bing’s maps use nice neutral colors and vivid fonts that make it easy to find the road you’re looking for. Zoom in, and the map switches to a bird’s-eye perspective that makes it easy to use maps for navigation on the go.

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Maps include a unique color scheme and viewing perspectives.

But you don’t have to rely on sight; Bing can give you walking and driving directions as well. The wide-screen view makes it easy to use Bing maps as a live GPS.

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Where are you going? Bing can get you there.

Maps can be fun as well, tap the person icon on the left of the toolbar in the home screen to open the Bookmarks page, which includes some fun and educational Bing Maps links. You can explore the world from your phone with the high-quality bird’s-eye views of popular locations around the world in Bing Maps.

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Hoover dam? Health care reform? Maps aren't just to get you from A to B.

If your exploring makes you long for the sky, you can also search for plane tickets and flight status from the Bing app. Bing includes Farecast technology that tries to predict when it’s a good deal to fly to different locations. From planning your next trip to exploring the world from your palm, the Bing app definitely includes tons of stuff to discover.

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Schedule flights and see when's a good time to fly.

Pros and Cons

While Bing is a nice app for maps and specialized searches, I don’t think most users will want to search the web from it as it’s more natural to just do it from Safari. However, sometimes it can be nice to have a conclusive app that does a ton at once, and Bing definitely fits the bill there. Also, while Bing Maps work great for US and European locations, they fall far behind Google Maps in many other parts of the world.

Another disadvantage I noticed is that Bing does not seem to cache maps offline as good as the built-in Maps app. If you’re using Bing Maps on an iPod Touch or an iPhone in an area with poor signal strength, this may be a major problem. You can usually keep using the directions unless you switch to a different part of the app, but maps often won’t stay cached when you’re offline.

Conclusion

Whether or not you like Microsoft products, Bing is a service that’s worthy of trying out. It seems odd to download a new app just for search, but with the wide variety of options Bing offers, I found that it delivered a superior search and discovery experience in maps, shopping, and more.

With Bing now included as a default search option in Safari on Mac OS X and iOS, it might be time to give it a try. We still find Google search often returns better results for some queries, but in some ways Bing gives you a nicer search experience. The iPhone app makes it easy to explore, so you might at least find it a fun way to kill some time looking at scenic locations from a birds-eye view.


Summary

Bing for iOS brings a beautiful search environment to your iPhone or iPod Touch that's both visually pleasing and useful. While it may seem redundant to use an app for search, Bing Maps makes a nice replacement for the default Maps app and brings along nice visual touches. Give it a try and you might find yourself using a Microsoft service on your Apple device!

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