iPhone becomes top Google user…briefly

Google released an update to its offerings for the iPhone, hoping to continue a trend that recently saw the iPhone briefly become the number-one mobile phone hitting Google sites.

Despite its small share of the overall mobile phone market, the iPhone spiked to number one on Dec. 25 among phones using Google’s services, beating out mobile makers that have been selling smartphones for many years.

Google revealed a chart showing that around the middle of November, iPhone users began to surpass BlackBerry customers in accessing Google, though they were still behind Symbian and Windows Mobile users. But on Dec. 25, iPhone users shot above them all, then quickly settled into the second-largest Google user base.

By the end of September, the last quarter in which Apple reported numbers, Apple had sold more than 1.3 million iPhones. By comparison, Nokia has sold 50 million of its N series line of phones, said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis. At the end of December, there were 12 million subscribers using BlackBerry devices.

“One thing this does is shows that Apple has done a remarkable job of publicizing some of these capabilities, even if they’re not the first to bring the capability to market,” Greengart said. Some of Google’s mobile services, like Google Maps, were already available on mobile phones before the iPhone hit the market. Yet, clearly, iPhone customers are using the services more frequently. “Either because of the design or PR or brand, or in all possibility because of the implementation … Apple has popularized the notion that you can do more on the phone than you might have tried to do previously,” he said.

iPhone customers will indeed be able to do more using Google services, with the updated offerings unveiled Monday.

iPhone users can now customize Google services through the menu bar and iGoogle home page. When iPhone users visit Google.com, they can choose Google applications to appear as links in a menu bar that runs across the top of the page. Signing in once, users can then access a variety of Google services, including Gmail, Calendar, Reader, Docs and Picasa.

In addition, iPhone users can also visit their customized iGoogle page from their phones. iGoogle is a page that users can arrange to include widgets of their choosing, including news, weather, games and recent Gmail mails.

Other changes to Google’s iPhone service include an updated user interface and a monthly view on the calendar. In addition, users won’t have to hit refresh to see new e-mails in Gmail because Gmail will automatically show new messages.

The new Google services for the iPhone keep pace with some new services that Yahoo introduced just last week. Yahoo began letting mobile users, including iPhone customers, choose widgets to arrange on their mobile Yahoo home pages. On its mobile Web site, Yahoo claims to offer the only e-mail service that pushes new messages to the iPhone as soon as they come in.

The new mobile services from Yahoo and Google demonstrate the eagerness both companies have to win over mobile users.

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