Google has launched a beta test version of Google SMS, a new service that lets users of wireless devices query Google for specific information, such as business or residential listings, product prices and word definitions.
Google SMS also can be used to solve mathematical calculations, to look up area codes and postal codes and to receive snippets of Google search engine results.
Google expects to modify and improve the service during this pilot period based on user feedback, a company executive said.
"We have presented our best guess of what would be good [for this service to have] but we are open to change and to learn [what people want]," said Georges Harik, who is in charge of new projects at Google and whose title is director of Googlettes, the term the company uses to refer to this type of effort.
"A core belief at Google is that we try to learn more from real usage rather than trying to figure out everything ourselves," he said.
Using a mobile phone or a handheld device that supports SMS (Short Messaging Service) text messaging, users can tap Google SMS through specialised queries that trigger very specific replies.
For example, entering the word "pizza" along with a postal code prompts Google SMS to return related business listings in that geographical zone. Likewise, entering a person's name along with a city, state and/or postal code yields residential phone listings.
Google SMS taps the company's Froogle comparison shopping service when users enter the word "price" along with a product name, or when they enter an "f" (for Froogle) and a product name. Users can obtain word definitions by entering the word "define" followed by a word.
The Froogle link could be very useful if a user is at a store considering whether to buy a particular product, because the user could check the item's price in other stores, Harik said.
Users can also receive snippets of the regular Google search results one gets when using the search engine from a regular PC. To do this, users should enter the letter "g" followed by their query. They will receive excerpts from the results, which can be useful in finding the desired information.
Because Google SMS responds to queries phrased in specific ways, users should not attempt to use it with the free-form queries supported by the regular Google search engine.
Google SMS is based on text messaging and does not require a browser on the wireless device. By the same token, it does not return full search-engine-type listings with links to websites, as the regular Google service on the web does.
Google SMS only returns text-based information, so features such as ringtones or pictures are not supported.
Google does not charge for the Google SMS service, but wireless provider fees for text messaging apply.
Google SMS currently only works with US wireless services, including AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Nextel, T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint PCS.
For now, queries can only be filed in English. There is no timetable yet on when Google will extend this service to other countries and to other languages, Harik said.
Users can send suggestions for improving the service or report problems to this e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Users should receive Google SMS query results within one minute typically. The maximum number of results per query is three. If a user is unsatisfied with those three results, the query should be tweaked to try to obtain different, more relevant results. The maximum number of search-engine snippets per query is two.
More information can be found at sms.google.com.
Juan Carlos Perez writes for IDG News Service