The search bar tries hard, but it’s just never reached its potential for efficiently finding information on touchscreen devices. Carlos Bhola, the founder of a startup called Kikin hopes to replace it with a “touch to learn” search — one that opens within the page you’re on.
Copying and pasting words into a search bar can be clumsy on a touch screen. So users of Kikin’s new iPad browser simply touch any word or phrase they want to learn more about. A small box appears with a list of search results pulled from a variety of engines such as Google, Wolfram Alpha and the Amazon database. Tapping on a hotel name in a Kayak listing, for instance, immediately pulls up price listings from other travel sites.
Kikin has made a iPad browser that turns traditional search on its head. An iPhone version is due out later this month. But it doesn’t want to be a search engine. And it doesn’t want to be a browser.
The company’s goal is to propagate the search technology it’s been developing since 2008. The technology looks at a user’s behavior and analyzes other words on the page to understand what search results are relevant. (See a more nerdy version of this explanation here).
In Kikin’s previous product, a browser plug-in for Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome, it used these cues to guess what terms the user would want more information about, and presented results in a sidebar. In the iPad browser, the user explicitly states what he or she wants more information about by touching the term.
Focusing on context is how Kikin knows to bring up price listings for the hotel on Kayak instead of the hotel’s webpage or reviews. Similarly, if you’re reading an article about the original “True Grit” and touch its title, Kikin will know to exclude results for the 2010 version of the film.
Of course, as social browser Rockmelt has proved, innovative features don’t necessarily translate to market share in the browser game. So Kickin, which offers little advantages as a browser aside from its search, has other plans for its technology: a free embed for websites and apps.
About 1.5 million people have downloaded Kickin’s plugins, according to the company, which previously relied on ads and referral fees for revenue. Its new business model will revolve around selling paid search results (similar to Google’s). With an unlimited number of sites, apps and retailers who could embed the technology, the potential user base explodes — and along with it the potential advertising revenue.
Bhola says he thinks it will appeal to publishers and ecommerce sites eager to keep eyeballs from wandering from their pages to search engines. But will eBay really want Amazon’s prices listed next to its own on its website?
“They will if they truly care about delivering the best experience to users,” Bhola says.