There's a new way to search for iPhone apps, and it comes from the unlikeliest of sources: Microsoft.
The Silverlight-powered collection definitely lives up to its "visual search" name, relying solely on oversize application icons. When you mouse over one, its name appears in the search field with a brief description below: developer, price, category, rank, and release date.
A click of that same icon produces Bing's standard Web-search results. What you don't get anywhere is a link to the app's App Store page. That's kind of a bummer.
On the other hand, Bing's search filters are really cool. You can look at the full collection of apps (about 500 altogether), the top 10 freebies, the top 10 paid, the newest, the most expensive, and so on.
Within each of those views, you can sort the listings by popularity, price, release date, and name. (Say, Apple: Why can't iTunes do that?)
Meanwhile, Bing also lets you narrow the search by category, price, and even publisher. So, for example, if you want to quickly cull the photography apps from any given batch, just click Category and choose Photography from the fly-out menu.
Bing's presentation is very slick, with icons that drop out and fly around as you modify your search preferences. It's really a fun way to browse and search.
However, with just 500 apps on display, you're getting only a fraction of what's available in the App Store. Granted, these are the "top apps," not the whole library, but it's a little frustrating when you drill into the Business category and find only two items.
In any case, it's interesting to see Microsoft putting any kind of spotlight on the iPhone. And it would be more interesting still if this gallery ramped up to, say, 5,000 apps. Then it would be more than just a fun diversion; it would have some bona fide practical value.
How about it, Redmond?