Should Apple Move On From Google Search?

By: Chris Crum - December 22, 2013

Could Apple take on Google in search? Apple has been making some rather interesting moves of late, and some of them are search-related, and lead one to wonder if Apple could legitimately give the search giant a run for its money in its core business.

Do you think Apple could ever compete with Google in the search space? Share your thoughts in the comments.

First off, consider how much searching is done from mobile devices now, and how that will only continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

The three major search engines have each put out their year-end lists of top trending searches, including in the gadgets category, and Apple’s products dominate all of these. The top searched global consumer electronics trend in 2013 on Google was the iPhone 5s. The iPad Air came in at number 7. On Yahoo’s top ten list for gadget/tech searches, iPhone (including 4, 5, 5s, 5c, 6) was number one. Siri was number 3. iPad cases was number 4, Apple iPad was number 7, and iPad 5 was number 10. On Bing’s most searched entertainment electronics list, iPhone was number 2 (only to Xbox), and iPad was number 3.

Suffice it to say, Apple’s products are incredibly popular, as if that wasn’t already a well-known fact. In terms of sheer volume, few would be better poised to take on Google in search from mobile (and tablet devices).

Siri has gotten a lot of attention since it launched, but that doesn’t mean it’s quite as popular as the devices it resides on. Apple’s personal assistant got a big upgrade with the release of iOS 7 this year. It got some major features that an Apple search product would need to truly compete with Google. In addition to understanding more types of commands, it added the ability to search Twitter, Wikipedia integration (one of Google’s favorite sources of search results), and of course Bing web search results. Bing is obviously Google’s main search rival, powering search results on Yahoo and Facebook outside of its own site.

A couple months ago, a survey found that hardly anyone is actually using Siri, but that could change for several reasons, but most notably, one in particular. Apple could get rid of Google Search as the default search for iOS, and force users into a Siri-based experience. Keep in mind, it’s already given such treatment to Google Maps. Getting rid of Google could mean a significant revenue hit for its main rival and a potential new revenue source of its own, should it choose to go down that road.

InvestorPlace contributor Brad Moon ponders the scenario that many of us have, pointing out that iOS was responsible for generating 50% of global mobile advertising in Q2 2013, and saying, “This is an opportunity for Apple and a risk for Google. The opportunity is for Apple to snatch a chunk of that mobile advertising revenue by implementing its own search functionality in Safari, Maps and Siri instead of relying on Google Search or Microsoft’s Bing. Google recognizes the threat, which is one reason why it’s willing to give up some of what could be Android’s killer features — Google Now, Google Maps and the Chrome web browser being prime examples — by developing native versions for iOS and keeping them competitive with the Android versions.”

Of course, we could theorize and speculate all day, but there are some very real pieces of the puzzle already falling into place. Apple has recently made two very interesting, search-related acquisitions: Topsy and Cue (formerly Greplin). Topsy automatically gives Apple something Google doesn’t have – legitimate realtime search by way of Twitter.

Regardless of what Google wants Google+ to be and what Facebook wants itself to be, there is no service that caters to realtime search like Twitter does. If you want to know what people are saying about something right now, you go to Twitter. Simple as that. Well, you go to Twitter or something that can search Twitter as well or better than Twitter Search itself can. Enter Topsy.

Topsy launched a new Twitter search engine in September, indexing every public tweet, and making them all searchable, creating what some would consider a better Twitter search engine than Twitter’s own search feature. In fact, various reports have indicated that Twitter almost bought Topsy itself.

Apple reportedly paid over $200 million for Topsy, and wouldn’t reveal its plans for the acquisition, but a powerful search tool related to Siri and iOS, which already has significant Twitter integration, would give Apple a powerful search weapon that Google wouldn’t apparently be able to compete with. In the realtime vertical that is.

Apple’s other search-related acquisition is just as interesting. Cue has been doing personalized search for a long time. It was pretty interesting when it launched (as Greplin), and illustrated another seemingly vital search vertical that Google wasn’t delivering on – the ability to search across Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., in a way that would let you get results from your personal networks and files. Google has dabbled in related concepts (like with Search Plus Your World and the search “field trial,” which added results from Gmail, Drive and Calendar at varying degrees of helpfulness). But none of these efforts have been as useful as they could be. Google just doesn’t have access to the necessary data, like private Facebook and Twitter data, for example.

With heavy Facebook and Twitter integration in iOS, this seems like another big opportunity for Apple to do something useful with search that Google isn’t doing.

Pieces of a puzzle.

Earlier this year, a report from Morgan Stanley said Google could pay Apple over $1 billion to remain the default search on iOS (as in Safari). That was before Bing became the default for Siri, and started getting the ability to suggest to iPhone users to switch their default to Bing, but Google is still the default for now.

Google reportedly paid Apple $82 million for it this year, with the price set to go up, based on what is believed to be a per-device deal that keeps growing.

As Romain Dillet wrote, covering the Morgan Stanley report, “Over the years, Apple has gotten more revenue from Google as Microsoft has been pushing very hard and bidding to make Bing the default search engine. For example, Bing is now the default provider on Nokia and BlackBerry devices. Money is a major incentive for Apple. But selling a Google-free iPhone could dictate the company’s next move.”

“Yet, Apple shouldn’t shy away from $1 billion,” added Dillet. “As a company, profit is the most important metric. Google provides an easy way for the company to cash in a significant sum of money every year. At the same time, Google pays more money to Apple than it directly generates from iOS users. But user data is worth a lot.”

So far, Siri has left a lot to be desired, but not really because of Bing, and it seems that Apple will only be working hard (and spending a lot of money) to make it better. With Bing playing a role here, it could open the door for a more unified search experience across iOS from Siri to Safari, and that could mean Google getting shut out (at least at the default level, which is certainly significant). We’ll have to wait and see.

Either way, Google’s own efforts are improving. It’s only getting better when compared to Siri, which is certainly good news for Android.

With apps being such an important part of the mobile experience, it’s also interesting to see how Google and Apple stack up to one another when it comes to app store search and app discoverability. The Pfeiffer App Store Maturity Shootout report was released last month looking at these things. According to that, Google is better at search, but Apple is way better at discovery assistance and content curation.

For search, the study took into account natural language search, queries containing typing mistakes (positive results), support for search operators, advanced search options and the ability to refine search. Here’s how the two (as well as Amazon) looked for that:

Clearly there’s a lot of room for improvement here, even from the reigning king of search.

Discovery assistance and content curation which is related to search in some ways, looked at the number of sub-categories, number of specifically selected groups of apps, and number of specifically selected apps. Apple blew the competition out of the water in this department.

Let’s put it this way, Apple just needs needs to improve search a little to be as good as Google, while Google needs to improve a whole lot to compete with Apple in the other category.

Since that report, Apple has actually made adjustments to its App Store search algorithm, and has improved how the search engine handles misspellings and typos.

While Siri, search in Safari and App Store search are all separate things, all of this shows that Apple is taking search more seriously than ever before, and makes you wonder what its next move is, especially with regards to a deal with Google.

Wired senior editor Ryan Tate says Apple is “betting big on search,” concluding that we should not think of Apple as a hardware company, but “as a tech empire, something that will rival every bit of Google and Facebook.”

What do you think? Can Apple compete with Google in search? Should it ditch Google altogether? Share your thoughts.

Images: Pfeiffer

Chris Crum

About the Author

Chris CrumChris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.

View all posts by Chris Crum
  • sk

    yes indeed, apple should launch their own search engine not only for I phone but for macs as well….

  • Martin R.

    Personally, I would’nt use anything from Apple. They have no respect for their employees. You don’t even own the stuff you buy from them, you just leased it. Read your contract. I hate this company. Google is by far a most respectable company!

    • Andrew K – Javea – Spain

      Are you saying that the Iphone I bought from Apple and paid around 450euros for, doesn’t belong to me?

      • Krontologist

        Obviously you don’t actually own anything from Apple or Microsoft. They own YOU! Bing is about as predatory as a Search Engine can get and they think everybody doesn’t even know it. The Bing UI is like going to Vegas and you can expect their only aim is to extract more money from your pockets.

        Apple keeps it’s sheep all locked up in their Garden Walled Prison Farm Network. Where they a truly a captive audience just waiting for Apple to tell them what to do and how to do it.

        Apple just needs to improve Search a little to equal Google Search? hahaha… now that’s got to be the most hilarious thing I’ve ever read. First of all Apple doesn’t have Google PageRank Algorithm and it’s been permanently granted to Google only, from Stanford University forever. The next thing you need to understand that no way in hell is Apple even if they required Apple’s users to only use their own Search tool, could they ever make even a small dent in Google’s Search Business.

        Remember that even with Apple’s own Ad service, they don’t even come close to making the over $20 Billion in Ad Revenue Google does and they’ve got a captive audience. The truth is that Apple blows far more Ad impressions in their user’s faces, yet still make near nothing by comparison compared to the few highly targeted Ads Google manages to sneak under Apple’s own nose. Google’s business model is all about Freedom of Choice….. and Openness. Something Apple knows nothing about whatsoever!!!

  • Steve

    Yes by all means ditch Google!

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  • Fair DUI

    I’ve been saying for years that Apple should do its own search engine. In the long run they’re leaving money on the table.

  • Allen

    Personally? I think Apple should stick to a lifestyle/software/hardware producer and leave Google to its’ own devices. Google has more potential of world domination than Apple(who is just a social status symbol, if ever you have an Apple Device on you). ^_^

  • Tom Nguyen

    Apple should focus on what it specializes in, computers and mobile phones. Let Google should focus on search. Do what you are the best at. You know what they say about being the jack of all trades.

    • shane

      I agree!

  • Conran

    Any competition against Google is a great thing. The search engine business is a monopoly and needs to be broken up, if governments are not willing to enforce anti-monopoly legislation on global corporations like this then we need to encourage that ourselves by creating new diverse services to dilute the absolute power Google maintains.

    I would prefer to see a thousand smaller search engines diluting the business and stealing power away from Google, but any competition, even from another massive corporation, is going to help.

    • Krontologist

      There are two kinds of Monopolies. Google is a monopoly because they have no real competitors. That’s different than attempting to kill your competition like Apple does. Just take a look at the the ebook fiasco and you just might be able to understand this fact.

      Apple is a minor player compared to Amazon in books. Yet it’s Apple that’s being hit with the Governments’ Monopoly lawsuit… not Amazon! lol….

      Google maintains it’s Search Engine monopoly by never attempting to force competitor’s out of market. No matter what the EU is blowing chunks on it’s all about Microsoft crying like a baby about not being able to compete. In the end….. just like with Apple’s assault on Amazon, the real anticompetitors are Apple and Microsoft!

      I hope Apple does move to making a search engine. It’ll be just another FAILED MAPS and eBOOKS FIASCO for them to fight! ;-P

  • Andrew K – Javea – Spain

    I agree with Conran. While Google have provided a great service and system over the years, competition is always good for everyone, and monopolies are most definitely not. I would think even Google would welcome an Apple incursion into their world. From an SEO viewpoint, it would be very useful to be able to optimise a site such as my one for different search engine algorithms. The problem I feel may come in that all such algorithms will eventually be the same? Is this not the nature of evolutionary progress?

  • don young

    Apple has the resources rot build a competent search engine. But a $billion in revenue for minimal cost is enough to delay the creation.

  • Jackie Mackay

    YES!! Apple could be the one to overtake Google.

    I would’ve thought this was too obvious to even bear discussion. Anyway it’s like trying to compare two entirely different animals. One with brawn and ONE with brain. You tell me which one you think is what – and that’s the one you think is the winner.

    End of. Jackie Mackay

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  • Cool Kiwi

    Yes Apple should create its own search engine.

    Google was great originally but over the years it has become a virtual monopoly and started to act in an arrogant and high handed manner. Changes to their search algorithm penalising webmasters for inbound links from web directories has overturned decades of good SEO practice and put many mon and dad website owners out of business almost overnight. Just one small example of Google’s high handedness. Bring on the competition!

  • Cool Kiwi

    Yes Apple should create its own search engine.

    Google was great originally but over the years it has become a virtual monopoly and started to act in an arrogant and high handed manner. Changes to their search algorithm penalising webmasters for inbound links from web directories has overturned decades of good SEO practice and put many “mum and dad” website owners out of business almost overnight. Just one small example of Google’s high handedness. Bring on the competition!

  • Espen K. Antonsen

    Oh yes! I think that searching and finding will be less coinsidental than it is today. Google is resting on the past search engines where it was all up to the webdesigners to add on to the different searchengines themmselves. But along the way when the importance of the web and comminication is going into all kinds of lifestyles and everything that are happening in all kinds of societies it also come into a political conflict. And as we all know the political interrest is to categorise and classify everything and create order. This order will also in the end become forced on the net too. And these changes has started to happen. Apple supports these political changes and will certainly fit their hardware to their new search engine. And possibly become the top-rated search engine for those who has apple hardware. Google will suffer under this I guess since to much categorisation and classification is not so much in their interrest.

    • Krontologist

      Look up “PageRank” algorithm? It’s one of few algorithms granted a patent. Which isn’t even owned by Google. Yet they have an exclusive right to use it. It’s why everyone including Apple fights to up their “PageRank” on Google Search and not on Yahoo, Bing or even Baidu. When they aren’t even allowed or able to look at the Stanford University “PageRank” algorithm Larry Page ingeniously devised while attending there. It’s the very basis of completely automated system, whereby Google will always retain the SEARCH CROWN!!!

  • Home Tutor

    Apple isn’t capable of creating a search engine. Look at their Maps fiasco.
    Anyway, they’s probably want $0.99 from you to view each search result.

  • shane

    No i do not believe apple can give google a run for its money with search engines, and yes i know lots of people use mobile devices now to search and buy etc. But i still feel google still pulls a lot more weight. From shane at where the name says it all, lots of great decor at great prices!


    I somewhat agree with home tutor i don’t know that apple can create a search engine and even if they can they can’t compete with google!!!

  • Halo

    Sure they should! And it would work just as well as their maps program did, lol!

  • Steve

    Google must have the most confusing website ever designed making it often near impossible to find tools, items, etc. that you are looking for. Google has too much of a monopoly as has been recently seen when they destroyed so many companies – I would welcome a better search engine company

  • Steve

    I think any search engine that hosts good clean content would also have a bit of “one-up-man-ship” on Google and attract a lot of people. It might even encourage Google to clean up their act

  • Karl Lalemand

    If it makes their products work better and gives them mort control … it will happen.

    Not depending on others is something Apple likes doing. NO one can control your future like you can, and Apple is proof of this.

    It’s not Should Apple drop Google, is When WILL they drop Google.

    With Google getting into hardware and expanding their world, it gives Apple no reason to stick around any longer then it has to.

  • Richard Whitworth

    Well, Apple screwed customers with their version of Maps so why not screw us with dropping google search. My next smart phone will not be an iPhone or apple product.

  • Pam


  • http://n/a John

    Monopolies are never a good thing when not a public company or utility. The more the merrier!

  • Soni Sharma

    At Initial stage it will be difficult to compete with Google in search space although It may launch search engine for its own products but it should allow user to add his/her own search engine.

  • Pinkmail

    Yes apple should start competing with google in the search fields they also should start their own email system and would be a good fit for them…. it’s the only Free email system with a cause ” Breast Cancer Awareness” and its own Auction that helps save lives with each email sent and auction completed so Apple let’s get it done where you at google can be beat…….Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  • wookie

    If Apple makes a search engine, it would have a lot of work to do. Google search encompasses not only sites, but also books, images, video, etc. Apple would need to make a video site to rival YouTube, and a book scanning project like Google Books. For its Maps, Apple still lacks an equivalent of StreetView. If Google can do book scanning and StreetView, so should other companies. Google does not have to be the only site in town to offere these book search and streetview, but unless Apple or Microsoft or Facebook make an equivalent, Google is the only place to get these features.

  • Peter Otte

    This is so compelling that I’m sure it has come up in high-level discussions within the company. And I think you can infer a lot from the Topsy and Cue acquisitions. But does Apple have to compete head-on with Google in search? Couldn’t they offer a richer and more relevant search experience by combining iOS/OS X search with Facebook and Twitter and then consolidate or filter the results so they seem more intuitive? Maybe they don’t have to compete to make search better, just make it more intelligent, integrated and intuitive.

  • Jimbo

    Yes i say that apple take on google in the search arena.