Ina Fried

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Bing’s iPhone App Is Getting New Features (But Windows Phone 7 Owners Will Have to Wait)

Although it was hard to see with all the demo glitches at the Bing Summit on Wednesday, Microsoft actually has a bunch of interesting updates coming to its iPhone app.

One feature, in particular, caught my eye. It’s the ability to take panoramic pictures just by waving the phone (and its built-in camera) around a bit. The result is a multidimensional Photosynth. People will be able to create panoramas for their own use or to share with friends, but Microsoft is also hoping that people will share them publicly and that some of them can be used to expand Bing Maps’ close-up capabilities.

Microsoft is also updating the Bing app with improved street-level photography options when using maps on the phone. Another new feature will allow the app to use the camera to capture and then read text, using any of the words it recognizes as the basis for a query. Also interesting is the ability to set the app to take action–such as check-in to a location-based service–when you reach a specified location.

Since the demos didn’t work so well for reporters on Wednesday, I offered Microsoft’s Blaise Agueras y Arcas a do-over and he was kind enough to give a demo for Mobilized and answer a few questions (see video below).

Although Microsoft didn’t outline it at the search event, the company is also making a series of updates to its Android app.

One side effect of the coming updates (which Agueras y Arcas said is coming very soon) is that it will actually further the gap between the iPhone and Windows Phone 7. That’s because Bing is not an app on Windows Phone 7, but an integrated part of the operating system. That means that the new Bing features won’t show up until the next OS update, at the earliest.

Microsoft, though, can ill-afford to cede the iPhone search market to Google. The Bing app, it notes, has been downloaded 5.5 million times, while the company has also finally managed to make Bing a search option in the browser.

It’s an issue that is likely to crop up repeatedly for Microsoft, unless it does something like create a separate Bing app for Windows Phone in addition to the built-in search capabilities, something that Microsoft officials held out as a possibility, though nothing is in the works at the moment.

Here is the video of Agueras y Arcas demoing the new features for Mobilized:

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik