Web watchers were abuzz with speculation this weekend that Apple is planning to launch its own search tool to rival Google, after an ad appeared on their recruitment site for an Engineering Project Manager to help develop “a search platform supporting hundreds of millions of users”
Is Apple plotting a payback?
Two of the biggest players in the technology industry, Google is the King of Search, while the Apple empire encompasses desktop and mobile devices which both use its Safari web browser.
Google is the long-standing incumbent default search engine on Safari, but their contract with Apple is due to expire soon, which leaves a question mark over what will happen if it’s not renewed – will they open the bids to a third party such as Yahoo! or Bing, or fill the gap themselves?
The two tech giants are notorious for their ongoing power struggle, notably Google’s launch of Android in direct competition with Apple’s iPhone. So it’s tempting to imagine that Apple is plotting payback on its rival by entering the search industry.
So how much of a threat would Apple-owned search engine pose to Google?
Safari may not the biggest browser on the internet, but it represents a considerable share of valuable users, particularly as search is a crucial aspect of how people use their mobile devices – and increasing.
This suggests that if Apple decides to create its own search engine and break ties with Google for Safari, Google could see a significant drop in mobile traffic, which would impact their stock price and bottom line.
Would Apple seriously consider getting into the search business?
A key factor in Apple’s success has been maintaining a laser-like focus on what it does well, leading some commentators to question whether it would jump feet first into a market in which they have no experience or expertise.
In addition, the company has been investing heavily in improving its Spotlight Search feature as well as integrating web search into Siri (iOS), so it could be more reasonable to conclude that the role being advertised is intended to help augment one of these technologies instead of help Apple build a new one.
Here’s a summary for and against:
- A new search engine would be easy to integrate into apps and devices that millions are already using.
- Google’s increasing focus on maximising revenue through advertising could provide an opportunity for Apple to differentiate itself with a premium quality organic search service.
- Apple may not have dabbled in search before, but a section of its followers are famous for their fierce brand loyalty.
- Google’s been perfecting its algorithms for the past two decades and is the undisputed market leader in terms of usage and brand familiarity, to the extent that its brand name is synonymous with generic web search and is established in language as a verb (in the same way as Hoover, Coke and Biro).
- Loyal Googlers could easily switch their own default search engine back to Google.
- Apple’s already quids-in with the existing Google deal for Safari, reportedly earning $1billion a year from Google.
- Creating its own search algorithm would not be cheap and could lose them money, making it more of a gamble than licensing Google’s search.
- Even if Apple don’t keep Google as the default for Safari, it seems much more likely that they’d give their business to more established rivals Bing or Yahoo: Bing already powers search for Siri on mobile devices and for Apple on the PC in Spotlight Search, while Yahoo’s deal with Firefox has increased its market share in the US and boosted its credibility.
- There’s a question mark over how Apple would monetise a new search engine.
- Apple’s less-than-perfect entry into map services could be a cautionary tale not to dabble outside their areas of expertise.
- Samsung and Google’s android control the smartphone market from both ends and collaborate extensively.
Will Apple enter the search engine market?
Not unfeasible, but unlikely.
Will Apple topple Google if it cancels the Safari deal?
Definitely not (but perhaps a bit of a shove).