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Ask Jeeves puts search in your Palm

The company says it will offer a wireless application for the popular handhelds, betting that demand for its service will grow.

Ask Jeeves today said it will offer a wireless application for Palm handheld computers.

The application, dubbed Jeeves Unplugged, allows Palm users to tap the Ask Jeeves online search engine, which looks for answers to questions that are written in ordinary English. The Emeryville, Calif.-based company indexes answers to questions in categories such as shopping, news, finance, sports and travel.

Ask Jeeves is betting that wireless demand for its service will grow as Web companies rush to offer their content over handheld devices. According to a recent study from The Yankee Group, the number of digital wireless phone users will grow from 220 million in 1998 to roughly 1 billion over the next four years.

"Mobile devices, whether handheld or voice-activated, are the next frontier for online businesses and services," Robert Wrubel, chief executive of Ask Jeeves, said in a statement. "Bringing Ask Jeeves' vision of humanizing the Internet to wireless devices is a logical step as the world moves toward full wireless integration."

Today's announcement follows a similar initiative by Internet search leader Inktomi to provide wireless services. In March, the company said it would sell its services and software to wireless network operators, Internet portals and other businesses to provide customers with access to content and services via handheld devices.

Inktomi also has taken an undisclosed equity stake in wireless provider AirFlash to provide customers with Internet services on mobile phones. AirFlash said it will integrate Inktomi's Internet search and directory technology with its portal software to provide personalized content and commerce designed for mobile phone users.