Hiya and Samsung Turn the Phone Dialer Into a Local Search Engine

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A new local search service is coming out on the freshest Samsung device, including the Galaxy Note 8 announced today, and it’s in the phone dialer app.

From a user perspective, it’s like a local search engine integrated directly into the Android phone dialer, shown as a third “Places” tab at the top of the dialer screen next to “Recents” and “Contacts”. From a local business perspective, the service from data tech company Hiya is changing the way consumers perform local search.

“When you buy a new Samsung device, the phone just does more than the iPhone or any other Android,” says Mayur Kamat, Hiya’s VP of product. “Without downloading or installing anything, the user can call a business in the same way they call their friends and family.”

The top categories that mobile users search for are restaurants, nightlife, food, and home services – all categories with significant local reach. Kamat says that the idea is to provide more useful information and a better experience for people making phone calls via a Hiya “Business Profiles” service. This service powers Samsung Places, which launched in April 2017.

Armed with five months of user data, Kamat says that people are leaving their Internet browsers and third-party apps in favor of using the dialer for local search. They’re using the dialer to call businesses that they normally go to anyway, such as local restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and ones they normally need in high-urgency situations, such as plumbers or other home services.

“We’re seeing a lot of those placed through the dialer,” Kamat says. “Those kinds of high-frequency interactions, we’re already seeing them slowly migrate to the dialer, just because it’s the most convenient way of doing it. Users do it three, four, five times a week.”

The phone dialer app-turned search engine is so convenient that it’s changing how people are searching for local businesses. Hiya’s data is showing another trend that the company didn’t expect, Kamat says, one that shows a different objective but still results in the user skipping other search options in favor of using the phone app.

“People are actually using the dialer for more than calling,” he says. “People are launching searches to find out, ‘Hey, what’s the rating for this restaurant? How far is it? Is it open now?’ Even if they have no intention of calling, they’re still using the search functionality in the dialer.”

So far, traditional search engines and third-party specialty apps still serve their own purposes, but the phone dialer option is segmenting the subject matter.

“If you search for ‘How tall is Barack Obama,’ it’s not going to give you any of that,” Kamat says.

People are also turning to the dialer app to search for and contact other types of services, such as automobile, health services, arts, and beauty services, although not quite at the same pace. But if it’s the fastest way to get in touch, Kamat says it will keep increasing. The phone app is usually located on the home screen, if not in the dock, and it’s simply faster. Consumers won’t spend the time it takes with five or six different clicks through a search engine, when using Samsung Places they can achieve the same result with fewer clicks.

Hiya’s tech further enables businesses by authenticating inbound calls to the consumer, since scammers and robocallers have completely destroyed the trust people had in using the telephone.

“There was a time when if your mobile phone rang, you answered it, whether you knew who was calling or not,” Kamat says. “Mobile was a protected sanctuary because only a few people knew your number.”

Billions of robocalls were made last year in the U.S., and this year, the Federal Communications Commission indicated that it was a complicated problem they didn’t know when (if?) they would be able to fix. Some explicitly recommend not answering the phone if the number is not recognized.

“Along with spammers, people are rejecting legitimate calls from businesses,” Kamat says. “For their intents and purposes, it’s unknown, even though it could be a call from the kids’ school district. It could be the plumber calling or even the Uber guy calling.”

Hiya is also working on providing more incoming call information on the display when a user’s phone starts ringing.

“The next step is not only telling the user who’s calling, but also details on why they’re calling,” Kamat says. “If I get call from my wife, she may be calling because our kid took a fall in daycare; that’s super urgent. Or maybe she’s just driving back from work and has time to kill. If I’m in a meeting, I might pick up and say that I’m in a meeting and I’ll call her back later. But it would be nice if my phone rang and it told me that my wife was calling because of something urgent.”

That doesn’t exist today, but it could provide extra information about incoming calls, such as the caller’s location or a level of urgency, including from friends and family.

In the future, Kamat also sees the dialer as a potential new place to target consumers with advertising.

“We want to do this in a manner that provides great value to the end user, and when monetization happens, it happens in context,” Kamat says. “If I’m calling my mom and I start seeing ads, that’s annoying, that’s not in context. But if I’m searching for pizza and an ad for pizza comes up, I’m going to know that that ad is OK and in some cases it’s useful.”

Hiya is also anticipating partnerships with other OEMs and phone manufacturers (Kamat couldn’t reveal which companies yet), and the consumer app is available on all Android and iPhone devices. In the future, Kamat says he expects that Hiya’s technology could affect how local businesses are able to close transactions over the phone.

“It’s a much smaller piece of it, but if you look at how phones can be part of a commercial transaction, when people call a business, they’re toward the end of their buying decision,” Kamat says. “From a business perspective, phone calls are very valuable. When someone calls me, I know I have a very good chance at converting that call.”

Hiya’s local business search services will also be integrated in the Galaxy S7 and S8 as well as all A-Series and J-series Samsung devices.

Last year, Hiya began working with the Yelp Fusion API, licensing Yelp’s data to give mobile users a way to search for local businesses within the Samsung dialer.

April Nowicki is a contributor at Street Fight.