When it comes to mobile search, can Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) beat Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) to the punch? It's a fair question, now that Yahoo! has widened the availability of the search service that's part of its Yahoo! Go mobile initiative.

Yahoo! said that oneSearch is now available on more than 85% of mobile phones through the mobile Web, as well as through the gamma version of Yahoo! Go for Mobile 2.0. That means it is accessible through more than 100 million mobile phones -- although we'll have to see, naturally, how many of those phones' owners will actually use the service.  

The oneSearch service seeks to make mobile search more relevant to the realities of what users might search for while they're out and about. Instead of search results consisting of Web links, oneSearch will deliver specific information, such as news headlines, images from its own Flickr service, business listings, local weather reports, and links to related websites.

A Reuters article gave a good example of what a user might expect from a Yahoo! search on a mobile phone. Search for a new movie, for example, and it would skip the critics' reviews common in a regular Internet search and instead show local theaters where the movie is playing, as well as user ratings. It makes perfect sense.   

Earlier this year, Yahoo! said it had partnered with Nokia (NYSE:NOK), Motorola (NYSE:MOT), Samsung, and LG Electronics to make its services accessible on their handsets. 

There's a lot at stake here, most notably the untapped market for advertising on mobile phones. Mobile advertising is expected to reach $1.5 billion this year, and double that by 2010. Earlier this year, when word of Yahoo!'s foray into mobile search using oneSearch gained momentum, so did the idea that perhaps Yahoo! could beat Google to the punch in delivering suitable search to the cell-phone-toting masses -- and capitalize on it in the process.

Yahoo!'s launch of oneSearch is particularly timely, with rumors cropping up again that Google might launch its own cell phone. (The same rumor of a Google-branded phone surfaced back in December.) The buzz surrounds an inexpensive phone with Internet connectivity and a color screen that is supposedly is in the works. While Google admits that mobile is an important area for the company, it won't confirm the specific rumors of a cell phone of its own. The rumor stems from "industry insiders," as well as from comments from a Google executive in Spain.  

Compared with Google and some of its other competitors, Yahoo! has often gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to investor excitement. That's why I always like to remind people that Yahoo! has many things going for it, including a strong balance sheet and the grip that its Internet services hold over many users. Most investors would probably agree that Yahoo! needs to step up its innovation, too. And while rivals like Google and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) won't take Yahoo!'s competitive moves lying down, Yahoo! could take a significant step toward carving out an innovative new niche where it could take the lead. It all depends on whether Yahoo!'s mobile-search service works well and catches on with consumers.

Yahoo! is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Microsoft has been recommended by Motley Fool Inside Value. Follow either link to a free 30-day trial. 

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.