Not that long ago, Microsoft operated on a very simple principle: What’s good for Windows is good for Microsoft. Initiatives within the company, from enterprise software to smartphones, stood or fell on the basis of how much they contributed to the core Windows effort.
This contributed mightily to Microsoft’s growth, power, and profits in the days when the PC was king. But as the PC and Windows have become less on less dominant in our technological lives, the Windows above all rule has made less and less sense and has begun to fall away. And that is why today a very good and free Bing app made its appearance in the iTunes App Store.
In fairness, Bing is all about driving search traffic and advertising revenue to the Microsoft service and the effort has been OS- and platform-agnostic from the get-go. Whereas the original MSN was highly Windows-centric, Bing was designed to work in any browser and with any OS. The push behind Bing also reflects Microsoft’s recognition of the new power structure of the industry. While CEO Steve Ballmer enjoys bashing Apple at every opportunity, Google is the threat that matters. And with once cozy relations between Apple and Google growing increasingly frosty, there may even be some room for common cause.
The iPhone app comes after Bing apps for Windows Mobile and BlackBerry (but, tellingly, not Google;s Android.) The iPhone version, however, is considerably superior to the offerings on other platforms. It;s very clean home page focuses on six Bing strengths: image search, local business search, movies, news, maps, and directions.
The maps are particularly good; I lied them better than the Google-based iPhone Maps app. You have a choice among schematic road maps, “shaded” maps that show topographical features, satellite images, and satellite-road hybrids, all available with an overlay of traffic conditions. You can get turn-by-turn instructions but like those in Maps, and unlike the news Google Maps app from Android, you don’t get real-time navigation. A GPS-based image shows your current position on the map, but you have to move manually from instruction to instruction.
Voice search is supported throughout the application. I found it worked OK, but not as well as Android voice search on the Motorola Droid.
All in all, the Bing app is a welcome addition to the iPhone. And a solid step by Microsoft toward the World After Windows.