Will Apple Really Launch a Search Engine?

Earlier this week I wrote about Apple’s addition of a local business ratings tool to Apple Maps on its newest iOS, now in beta. I snuck in a mention at the bottom of that post that Apple is also looking at launching a search engine. Today, search on iOS devices is handled by Apple’s arch-nemesis Google.

I thought the topic deserved more than throw-away treatment at the bottom of a post about something else. So here is a little more of what we have learned about this. We want to credit our sources, which include this item on the tech news site Coywolf, and this one on DAC’s blog. Much of what each has reported relies on evidence available in plain sight to a trained eye.

So let’s summarize the evidence suggesting Apple will launch a search engine.

  • Apple has posted job listings suggesting it’s investing in the talent required to develop a search product. These include AI/machine learning and natural language processing engineers. This reminds us of Twitter recently tipping its hand on offering a subscription product via similarly revealing job postings.
  • Some SEO eagle eyes also spotted new guidance on the About Applebot page which are similar to instructions offered on Google’s Webmasters forum.
  • Apple is reportedly bypassing Google via Spotlight Search on its iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 betas.
  • And finally, Apple is said to be actively crawling websites.

This may not be an open and shut case. But combined, these clues suggest Apple is up to something.

Ok, but Why?

The first obvious question is, Why drop Google? After all, Google reportedly pays Apple billions annually to be its default search engine. This has raised a red flag among UK antitrust regulators. As we noted in our earlier post, just as Apple has relied on data partners for reviews, it has also relied on Google for search. So Apple’s motivation for owning search is the same as for owning ratings. The company wants to have complete control over its destiny. This is particularly so in strategically important areas like ratings content, maps, and search.

With 100 million iPhones in circulation in the U.S. alone, Apple has distribution rivaled only by, well, Google. This puts it in a credible position to compete with Google with a search product of sufficient quality. Even if Apple can loosen Google vise-like grip on search, it will have won. And Apple can probably make up what it looses from Google fees with its own search ad revenue. Google is said to pay Apple $7 billion while generating about $25 billion in ad revenue through search on Apple devices.

If Apple does chip into Google’s lead, it will lead to longer days and more job security for SEOs. They will have to optimize for more than just Google.

Remember Neeva?

Some might view competing with Google on search a fool’s errand akin to taking on Amazon in eCommerce. Yet every now and again, someone rises up to take on Google, either for its own competitive self-interest (e.g., Apple, Microsoft) or to build a new business that re-imagines search. Of course, there is Duck-Duck-Go, which positions itself as a privacy-friendly search alternative. And there is the most recent entry, Neeva, a subscription-based approach to search launched by Google’s former head of advertising and funded by Silicon Valley’s VC royalty. Neeva is ad-free and promises not to track user behavior. After making a splash over the summer, little has been written about Neeva since, though we expect the product will re-emerge later this year.

More from Localogy

Apple Maps Adding Ratings to Latest iOS

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