Apple has denied it has any plans to replace Google with its in-house built search engine, but for years, Apple pondered building a search engine that could replace Google as the preferred option on its devices. And the Sellers Research Group (that’s me) thinks it could still happen eventually.
In his latest “Power On” newsletter, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman notes that, currently, Apple gets a cut of Google’s search ad revenue, a commission that has brought in roughly $8 billion annually in recent years. But imagine if Apple could keep more of that money.
“If the company successfully deployed its own search engine, it could potentially create a revenue stream about the size of the Apple Watch, assuming it can sell advertising and search slots at the same price as Google,” he says. “The probability of that happening is a long shot, but — even if Apple can’t quite match Google — the company could probably create more revenue by bringing search in-house.”
Gurman notes that if the tech giant’s internal search technology ever gets into tiptop shape, Apple could theoretically offer customers a more integrated and private solution compared with Google. The public has already gotten a glimpse of what this could look like. The company built its own search engines for services like the App Store, Maps, Apple TV and News.
“But the best evidence of Apple’s search efforts can be seen in Spotlight, which helps users find things across their devices,” Gurman notes. “A couple of iOS and macOS versions ago, Apple started adding web search results to this tool, pointing users directly to sites that might answer their questions. During different points in time, those results were powered by either Microsoft Corp.’s Bing or Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Siri also uses that technology to offer up web results.”
Gurman also notes that:
° A few years ago, Apple introduced a web crawler called Applebot. Like crawlers from Google and Microsoft, this system scours the internet to index websites for future search results. It essentially exists to find sites that it can provide to users in Siri and Spotlight.
° Apple also has its own advertising technology team, which will be helpful if its search ambitions grow. That group runs the search ad functions in the App Store, delivers ads to Apple News and the stocks and weather apps, and negotiates the advertising deals for streaming sports.
This info from Gurman is from the free edition of “Power On”. If you like it, consider subscribing to Bloomberg.com—you’ll receive the newsletter earlier and get exclusive access to a Q&A section.
This isn’t the first rumor of Apple making its own search engine (Apple Search?). In June 2022, AR evangelist Robert Scoble tweet3d that the company was working on its own search engine.
He told TechRadar that this information is based partly on conversations with sources and partly on deduction. Scoble said the search engine would be announced in January 2023 and would be “expensive product launch of all time.”
And even that wasn’t the first such rumor. In a 2018 Macworld article, Jason Cross said Apple should develop its own search engine.
“The company’s stance on privacy is at odds with the way the biggest search engines operate,” Jason wrote. “Maybe there’s a better way.”
Read the complete article for his conclusions, but I think “Apple Search” is a great idea — though I’m dubious that Apple is willing to give up the billions of dollars Google pays the company to be the default search engine on its various devices.
In fact, in 2016, Apple posted a listing to its Jobs at Apple page describing an engineering project manager position for “Apple Search.” And in a 2013 Seeking Alpha article Kevin Fulton said he thought an Apple search engine would be the company’s “next big thing.” He said that Apple has been bolstering its technology portfolio in preparation for the day when it becomes independent from Google.
Fulton said that, rather than competing directly with Google’s broad search capabilities, he thinks Apple will personalize its search offering.
“The search engine will use machine learning and restrict the information only to relevant sources that the user trusts,” he adds. “It will be location and circle of influence based. Apple will implement its personalized search ability across the iOS ecosystem by integrating the improved Siri into apps and having loadable native commands to run those apps by voice.”
I’m not convinced that we’ll see Apple Search. However, I’m not as sure as I once was that we won’t.