The makers of Blekko believe they've built a great alternative to Google, but they're also realistic. They know their two-year-old Internet search engine won't ever supplant Google as the most popular place to search on laptop and desktop computers.
But Web surfing on tablet computers is a different matter, creating an opportunity Blekko hopes to exploit with a new product called Izik - a search engine designed especially for Apple Inc.'s iPads and tablets running Google's Android software.
Izik, whose name is a riff on 17th-century scientist Isaac Newton, debuted Friday with the release of free apps for the iPad and Android tablets.
To cater to the more visual format of tablets, Izik displays search results in rows of information capsules that can be easily scrolled with a swipe of a finger. Users scroll vertically to look at different categories related to a search request. Scrolling horizontally displays more capsules within each category, which vary depending on the request.
Blekko CEO and founder Rich Skrenta likens the experience to a hybrid service that is part search engine, part magazine and part discovery tool. Izik also shares some similarities to a tablet search app called Axis that longtime Google rival Yahoo Inc. released last May in an attempt to shake up the market. Like Izik, Axis also relies on visual thumbnails to list search results.
Skrenta believes search will have to change as more people become tablet owners and start to use them more frequently than their laptop computers. With more than 100 million of the devices already sold since the iPad's April 2010 debut, tablets already have contributed to declining sales of traditional PCs and printers.
Google so far has been able to extend its dominance to tablets, largely because its search engine is the built-in option on the iPad and most Android devices.
But the algorithms and format that Google uses on tablets and laptops are basically the same. Skrenta doubts Google will switch to a format as dramatically different as Izik's approach because it still makes most of its money from online advertising displayed on traditional PCs.
Blekko's namesake search engine also sought to address a problem Skrenta didn't think was being adequately addressed by Google. By relying on humans to highlight the most useful information under frequently searched topics, Blekko, which is based in Redwood Shores, Calif., tries to remove the rogue websites that have learned to how to manipulate search formulas to gain a prominent ranking in search results.
Although Blekko began working on its technology five years ago, its search engine didn't debut until late 2010. About four months after that, Google unveiled sweeping changes to its search algorithm in an effort to reduce the rubbish showing up in its results.