Mobile answer service ChaCha is $7 million richer after a new round of funding, so maybe the information provider will lower the price of its ChaCha iPhone app ($2.99) in 2010. If the iPhone app were more moderately priced (say, free) it would receive higher marks from me. But I can’t deem ChaCha worthy of a $2.99 price tag when there are plenty of free search engines available.
ChaCha’s purpose is to be a human-based, or guided, search engine. Users submit questions, usually via a phone number or through text, and receive answers back from ChaCha’s guides. With the ChaCha iPhone app, you can either type in your question, or ask it verbally with the supported AT&T voice recognition. While it isn't perfect, the voice recognition does capture better than other voice-activated searches I’ve tried, even though its processing speed is relatively slow. Because of the voice feature, ChaCha is not available for first-gen iPod Touches.
ChaCha’s first search results came from its database, which is available on the service’s Web site. My test question was not answered by any of these results, so I had the option of asking a guide. To do that, users are required to have a ChaCha account. The iPhone app would not authenticate my account to test this, but in theory, a guide will then answer your question, which users will receive via push notification.
The problem I have with ChaCha’s current iPhone app is that you’re paying for results which are just as easy to get through Safari, and because asking a guide directly is now an extra step, you’re actually getting results more slowly.
ChaCha’s one plus is its "Thmbsavr" feature—shortened search strings that provide quick, accurate information (for example, type "Weather," plus the zip code, for local forecasts or "M," plus the movie name and zip code, for nearby movie times). And, because the iPhone app saves your last 10 searches, you can access this information even faster.