iPhone-Bing rumor 'wild stuff'
At the same time, Microsoft will also push Bing to new users through certain carefully-chosen distribution partnerships, most notably in the mobile market. But Ballmer downplayed reports that Microsoft is locked in talks with Apple and an increasingly anti-Google Steve Jobs over the possibility of Bing powering search on the Jesus Phone.
"I read that rumor. I was in Europe someplace and I read it - after some journalist has asked me about it. It's weird how these rumors spread," he said. "That's sort of wild stuff. What we want to do is make sure we do a very good job of Bing on the iPhone."
Ballmer was equally coy when asked if Microsoft would pursue a Bing partnership with traditional rival Mozilla on its Firefox browser. Mozilla has deals to provide access to Google and Yahoo! search - especially Google search - through its open source browser, but Bing is still conspicuously missing from the Firefox search box.
"We'd love to have more distribution partners," Ballmer said. "You can talk to them about their perspective. We're having all the right dialogues with all the right people, on all the right distribution deals."
He also indicated that Microsoft would be interested in bringing Bing to the Safari search box on Apple Macs, but he was, well, less bullish about a possible deal to put Bing on Google's Android mobile OS. "That's a little more complicated," he said. "Android without [Google] isn't Android. We're going to have to see where the Android market develops."
Microsoft currently has a pact with Verizon Wireless to push Bing on certain BlackBerries. And it's offering a dedicated Bing application for the iPhone. On such mobile platforms, Ballmer said, Microsoft is seeing more traffic - and more valuable traffic - than expected.
"We're seeing good commercially valuable queries on the iPhone, but we're getting better queries than we anticipated across all mobile platforms," he said. "It is an interesting mix. Some of the most valuable commercial queries, people are less likely to do from the phone. And yet the volume of queries is likely to be higher... But the average value of the queries is better on mobile than we expected."
But he still questions how important search will be years down the road. "The one thing that's interesting to ask is: 'What's going to happen overall with the economics of search engines in the future?' In the tech business, one of the interesting things that happens is that you have a business and people try to remake it," he said. "Five years from now, we may have a greater share, but maybe search engines are somehow less profitable."
And yet Bing will be profitable. According to Steve Ballmer. ®