Bing Mobile: The Swiss Army Knife of Apps?

Microsoft’s Bing Mobile (s msft) is getting a serious update on the iPhone (s aapl) and, to a lesser extent on Android (s goog), with a handful of mobile-specific features that draw from other existing apps and services. The updates to the mobile app, which are being announced today at a Bing Search Summit, are designed to make Bing Mobile a go-to resource for mobile users, cutting down some of the steps it takes to finish tasks. In a larger sense, it shows how some apps are now evolving to be like smartphones: multifunctional products that may reduce the need for more narrowly focused programs.

One of the new features in Bing is an auto-suggest function, which takes a user’s search query for a restaurant or movie and contextually anticipates how they might want to act on their search. For example, a restaurant search gives the option to either make a reservation through OpenTable or order food through GrubHub. Users will also gain a Google Goggles-like experience with Bing Vision, enabling users to scan barcodes for product reviews, grab text to initiate searches or identify nearby business listings, all by using a smartphone camera.

Another nice feature is real-time transit information for Boston, San Francisco and Seattle, allowing commuters to see schedules and estimated arrival times. There’s also the ability to create Evernote-like “to-do” lists allowing a user to set task alerts for when they’re near a location. And Bing Mobile searches on the iPhone (s aapl) turn up results for iPhone apps as appropriate. Microsoft is also bringing its Bing Maps Streetside view to mobile with a version for the iPhone that renders Google Maps-like Street views.

The iPhone version of Bing Mobile will get all of these improvements starting today, while the Android app will be limited to gaining OpenTable and GrubHub integration, an updated search widget that looks up third-party apps and a new share command for sharing content from loaded apps.

The improvements show how Microsoft is moving aggressively in mobile beyond its Windows Phone 7 platform. By combining its search product with other web services, it can create a mobile experience that blends a lot of features, from product scanning and transit updates to simple note taking and restaurant reservations. The app has previously allowed people to check-in to Foursquare and Facebook. This is eventually going to put more pressure on single-purpose apps.

Just like the smartphone is allowing some people to leave dedicated devices behind, we’re seeing more apps that can roll-up multiple functions in one place. It doesn’t mean single-purpose apps go away, especially if they’re very elegant and usable, but these increasingly multi-faceted apps have the ability to be good-enough one-stop shops for people.

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