Google has come to cellphones — the cheap ones, not just the fancy color-screen models with Web access.
Over the last month, the popular search engine company has quietly turned on a new service that lets people use most newer cellphone models to get snippets of information by sending short text messages to a special five-digit number, 46645, which spells GOOGL on a phone keypad.
People looking for a list of pizza or Chinese restaurants in Back Bay, for example, just have to send the message “pizza 02116” or “Chinese 02116.” Within 10 seconds or so, Google shoots back one or more text messages listing restaurants with addresses and phone numbers from its Google Local page. Related services from Google let users get a phone number by sending a message containing the desired person’s first and last names and city, area code, or ZIP code; they can also use Google’s Froogle shopping site to get a price quote by sending a text message with “price” followed by the item’s name or Universal Product Code number.
Google’s is among a handful of new services that give consumers a much cheaper, on-demand alternative to paying $5 to $15 for a monthly subscription to a plan like Verizon Wireless’s Get It Now, Sprint’s PCS Vision, or the mMode service offered by the former AT&T Wireless Services Inc., which is now part of Cingular Wireless LLC. With the Google service, users pay their carrier for only the cost of text messaging, typically 10 cents a message or less when subscribers buy monthly “buckets” of 100 or 500 messages.