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Google abruptly shuts down search-by-SMS portal

Users cut off without notice, apparently for good

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Without warning, Google has shut down the gateway that allowed mobile users to access its search engine via SMS text, effectively cutting off from the service customers who lack data plans.

The Chocolate Factory launched its SMS search feature in 2004 and has maintained it ever since, providing abridged query results such as phone numbers, addresses, or sports scores via 140-character text messages.

Beginning last week, however, users of the service began receiving only a message reading, "SMS search has been shutdown. You can continue to search the web at google.com on any device."

Naturally, that "any device" would have to be one with wireless data connectivity, excluding those users with low-end feature phones – still quite common in the developing world – or who simply don't want to pay for a data plan.

Shuttering less-popular (or less-lucrative) services is nothing new for Google. It has axed a dozen or more products and features in successive rounds of "spring cleaning" over the past few years, occasionally angering their fans (and a few foes).

What is unusual for the online giant, however, is to kill one of its services so suddenly, and without advance notice. Typically users are given some time to adjust – for example, fans of Google Reader will be able to use the service through July 1, despite Google having announced its demise in March.

When The Reg contacted Google to see if there was some mistake, we received a brief statement in reply:

Closing products always involves tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users. Streamlining our services enables us to focus on creating beautiful technology that will improve people's lives.

We have to admit the move makes a certain amount of sense. Google is all about pushing mobile technology forward, and it stands to gain more by nudging customers toward Android smartphones than by maintaining clumsy tech like its SMS Search gateway. Still, we can't help but lament the loss of what seemed like a genuinely handy feature, in a pinch.

A visit to Google's SMS applications homepage shows that the Chocolate Factory is still maintaining a few of its SMS applications, including the Calendar, Blogger, Gmail, and Google Voice portals – at least for now. But as of Monday, the SMS Search link yields only a 404 error. ®

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