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Users dismayed as Google closes SMS search feature

Google apparently shut down its SMS Search function last week without warning, but the news barely made a splash outside of its niche group of feature phone owners.

Starting Thursday, a handful of users turned to the Google Product Forums to commiserate over the loss of their free, text message-based search.

The function allowed non-smartphone owners to text Google (466453) with a question — directions, weather, sports scores, movie times — and receive results sans hyperlinks via SMS. As TechCrunch pointed out, it was mainly intended for feature phones without data connections. It could, however, be utilised on any smartphone, as well.

Those who attempted to use SMS Search as of 9 May began receiving the following message: "SMS search has been shutdown. You can continue to search the web at on any device."

The "SMS Search" link on the Google SMS applications page, meanwhile, currently goes to a dead link. Google's other SMS-based products — calendar, Blogger, Gmail, and SMS messages via Google Voice — appear to still be working.

Google did not immediately respond to request for comment, but in a Friday forum post, Googler Jessica S. said "closing products always involves tough choices, but we do think very hard about each decision and its implications for our users. Streamlining our services enables us to focus on creating beautiful technology that will improve people's lives."

But that wasn't enough to satisfy some loyal customers.

"Some users only have voice + sms enabled (no data plan)," Greg Meboe wrote on the forum on Friday. "Google SMS search was my link to information on the go. Please consider restoring this service."

"I am so disgusted by this change, especially without notifying the customers who used this as a daily and integral part of their lives," user Dyerra wrote last week. "I was quite dismayed to find that a service that had worked only yesterday no longer worked today. ... This seriously makes me want to not use Google for anything anymore. I used to feel very positively about Google's business practices and ethics, but this has tainted my viewpoint."

It's no surprise that companies are shifting their focus from low-end devices to smartphones and tablets. As of the first quarter of 2013, smartphones officially outsold feature phones for the first time, in what IDC called a "seasonally slow" three months.

This isn't the first time Google has irked users with plans for a product shutdown, either. In March, the company announced that it will shutter Google Reader as of 1 July, prompting outrage and online petitions.