iPhone app review: Taptu, the alternative search machine

Everyone moans about the lack of Flash on the iPhone, right? Let’s face it: if someone makes a solid Flash implementation for the iPhone there would be substantially less interest in making native iPhone apps. You could create a rich user environment in the browser, and the iPhone App Store would be less and less relevant. As things stand now, I prefer native apps over browser apps for iPhone services. I use the dedicated mail client to access my GMail account, rather than load the mobile GMail interface in Safari. I use a dedicated Twitter client, FaceBook client, and LinkedIn client rather than load the mobile version of those sites (assuming a mobile version even exists!).

Often, though, no native client exists, and you’re stuck using a web site. It can be a real pain to find a mobile-friendly version of the sites you need, sometimes. Enter Taptu, the alternative search machine. This free app provides iPhone-friendly search results in a surprisingly intuitive way.

The app starts with a simple text entry box. Tap in it, and type in a search phrase. I recently started homebrewing, so beer has been on my mind a lot. I searched for beer.

taptu search

Unfortunately for this review, the first result was a sucky spam landing page. But in Taptu’s defense, it was a mobile-optimized sucky spam landing page! The second page was the very informative Wikipedia entry on beer. Mmmm…beer.

At the top of the results screen you see your search terms, which you can edit, the Taptu control widget, which we’ll get to in a moment, and some dots. The dots are a pager, and indicate where in the search results you are. You simply flick through the search results in a coverflow fashion, and get to see previews of the result pages. If you want to see the full page, simply click the “View source” link and an inline browser will open. In this case, it’ll open the Wapedia (WAP-optimized version of Wikipedia) page for beer. Mmmmm…beer. Click the little gear in the bottom right and you’ll get options to share or save the link, or email yourself the contents of the result page. Pretty handy.

If you click the Taptu control widget at the top right of the screen, you can filter your search results in a number of useful ways.

taptu filters

As you can see, you can filter your search results to just iPhone sites, just Wikipedia, just Twitter, etc. This is a good way to narrow a search to find stuff you know you want without having to scroll past pages of unrelated results. In an early beta of the Taptu app that I tried, it included an annoying number of YouTube videos in my search results, and I found myself filtering results to get better accuracy. Thankfully, YouTube seems less prominent in search results returned in the current version of the app, and presumably the algorithms will continue to improve.

Another great feature of the current version of the Taptu app are context sensitive search filters included beneath the default search filters. As you can see, my search for beer produced a number of beer-related links.

taptu context links


Bottom line: Taptu is a pretty slick mobile search solution.