Google is well known for its regular bouts of spring cleaning when it kills off a number of products in one fell swoop, but it also sometimes makes quick changes in between the bigger announcements. One of those has now hit its portfolio of SMS-based products aimed at users of lower end devices: Google has quietly closed down SMS Search.
People began to notice the service stop working on Friday, and asked about it in one of Google’s Product Forums (good thing those haven’t been closed down yet) and on Reddit. Jessica S., a Google employee, set the record straight:
Closing products always involves tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users. Streamlining our services enables us to focus on creating beautiful technology that will improve people’s lives.
For those of you who didn’t use it, SMS Search was a service Google had created that let users send search queries by text message to a short number, in this case 466453. The search results would also come back as text messages. These would not be links to further web pages, but actual information, playing on the many services that Google offers on its desktop search portal for things like currency conversions, weather and local listings. This was mainly intended for feature phones without data connections:
But the search could also be used on smartphones:
Google’s SMS services page hasn’t removed a link to SMS Search yet, it goes to a 404 page.
Trying to find a picture of how SMS Search looked, I came across (on Google) a link to its Canadian SMS Search page, which appears to still have an active link, but as Ghacks points out that won’t work because it uses the same short code number as the U.S. service did.
In some regards, you can see why Google would choose to axe SMS Search. The number of feature phone sales is on the decline worldwide as more and more people make the shift to smartphones.
In the last quarter of 2012, Gartner says the number of mobile phone sales worldwide was a 472 million units, compared to 478 million a year ago, but at the same time smartphone sales increased by 58 million to 208 million (it has yet to release its quarterly figures for Q1 2013).
It could be that Google is simply doing this to stay one step ahead of the times. Or it could be that, as with other products like Google Reader, it was not getting enough use of the service.
For now, Google’s other SMS products that let you check your calendar, update your Blogger blog, check your Gmail, and send and receive SMS text messages through Google Voice, appear to still be working; but users will inevitably start wondering if these will be next on the chopping block.
We’re reaching out to Google to ask and will update as we learn more.