According to rumours, Apple will launch its own search engine “sooner rather than later.” This is good news for consumers because competition between Apple and Google means more resources will be spent to improve search, but it’s also good news for Google on one front — the regulatory battle.
Apple is undoubtedly improving its search products, as evidenced by the companies it has acquired since 2013. Topsy Labs technology already powers specific queries through Siri or Apple’s Spotlight search on the Mac, and Laserlike uses artificial intelligence to crawl the web and build a database. It would be perfectly reasonable for Apple to develop its own search engine.
The obvious disadvantage is that Google loses money for using Google Search as the default on every iPhone and iPad. This is estimated to be between $8 billion and $12 billion, which is a large sum to lose overnight. I’m assuming Apple is willing to lose that money if it decides to build Apple Search.
A less obvious result is that, in the eyes of regulators, Google now has only one category in which it does not have a “almost” monopoly: search. That is significant.
If you live in North America, you’re probably unaware of Google’s massive advantage in connected devices and the software that powers them. Google controls approximately 80% of the global mobile device market, compared to approximately 50% in North America. The thing is, Google’s software is also available on non-Android devices via products such as Gmail, Google Photos, Maps, and Search.
Regulators are aware of this, and it comes up whenever they are doing their jobs and looking out for the consumer rather than big business interests. It means Google is subjected to increased scrutiny and is frequently compelled to make changes that governments claim are in the best interests of all.
When it happens correctly and for the right reasons, this is a wonderful thing. That is why Google gives us more control over location data reporting and the ability to opt out of targeted advertisements. This is also why Google must cooperate with other advertisers, particularly when it comes to search results.
The converse is also true. When people hear about Google’s monopoly, they immediately think of Apple’s strict rules and heavy hand when it comes to the iPhone and iPad. Apple’s way or the highway, and lawmakers don’t seem to mind.
This is because Apple does not have the huge market share advantage that Google does — it can get away with a lot more nonsense and unfriendly policies because everyone who despises it has an obvious alternative. And it mostly works — there are a lot of things I like about the iPhone, but I won’t use one because I disagree with several of Apple’s rules about how I can use it. So I use an Android phone that allows me to break fix whatever I want.
Google does have a monopoly in one area: mobile search. Google Search is the default search engine on every Android phone, iPhone, and tablet. You can change that default, but most people don’t, so I’d estimate Google has roughly 90% of the mobile search market. Regulators are unhappy with this and are gradually working to make it more obvious that there are alternatives and to include an easy way to switch to one of them. When someone claims that Google has a true monopoly in mobile search, Google has no defence.
When Google switches 1.5 billion mobile devices to Apple Search, it can now point a finger and say, “Look at all this competition!” whenever it faces a slew of lawmakers about unfair search practises. This is especially true in the United States and Canada, where half of the population owns an iPhone.
Google probably despises the idea in any case, but the people in charge are also confident that it won’t make a difference. Like Maps, regardless of how good Apple’s initial product is, Google’s will be superior because it has been around for much longer. And, as with Maps, users will return to Google for searching by changing the Safari default.
If Apple is serious enough to spend the money and put in the effort, this is bad news for Google in the long run. Apple Search will become adequate for the majority of people, while Google will lose billions of customers. We’re seeing this with Maps right now.
I want Apple to create a search engine that will force Google to work harder. I hope it results in significant changes in advertising and privacy while providing good, relevant results. But, for the time being, it would allow Google to get away with a little more because it is no longer the only game in town.