Bing just upped its effort in the search engine war against Google with an updated iPhone app. Just in time for iOS4's firmware update, the app has a bunch of tweaks, but one, real Google-beater: Barcode scanning for quick product IDs.
Among the usual security fixes and UI adjustments, Bing iPhone's new camera view system is the real gem. It's like several existing iPhone apps that've popped up over the last year which take advantage of the better camera in the 3GS phone to image barcodes and pass information back to you. But these apps require some third-party database and search engine powers, whereas if you flick on the Bing app it's all in one place. As the guys over at SearchEngineLand note, it's surprisingly powerful: They imaged the barcode on the back of a can of keyboard duster-spray, which is a slightly random object to test the system with, but it happily identified it properly and then delivered a search results page that included links on where to buy another can.
This is a killer feature. Don't be mistaken about the utility of this: You may not instantly be able to imagine how you'd use it, but it's one of those systems that you only really appreciate when you try it out. If nothing else, it's useful for helping you keep track of products you need to get more of on your next trip to the supermarket, or for IDing the books on a friend's bookshelf so you can get a copy for yourself.
But Bing's also been updated with hooks to social networks directly in the app. Facebook and Twitter users can log in their account info to the Bing app, and then access the systems directly from inside Bing, including updating your statuses and viewing what your friends have been up to. It's not a huge thing, but it lets you do several activities all from the simple access point of one app ... and it may be a sign that Microsoft has plans for a richer integration with social media systems in the future.
Do these features mean that briefly Microsoft is beating Google at its core game, at least in the iPhone app arena? Possibly. It does illustrate that the future of search is, for sure, going to be defined in part by how search engines work on mobile devices.