A bombshell report from Bloomberg over the weekend boldly declared that “Apple has the wherewithal to launch its own search replacement for Google.” And, as is typically the case in the Apple blogosphere, headlines sprouted up claiming that an Apple search engine might be right over the horizon. All the while, the Bloomberg report includes a blurb noting that the likelihood of Apple trying to take on Google is a long shot. Well, that’s a bit too generous, in my opinion. Truth be told, I think it’s fair to say that Apple trying to go head-to-head with Google in search is more of a no-shot than a long shot.
Let’s be clear – Google quickly became and has remained the dominant search engine because it’s a superior product. Despite advances and ongoing challenges from Bing and DuckDuckGo, and despite the fact that Google keeps shoving more ads down our throats, the simple reality is that Google’s search engine remains best in class. Google’s search engine prowess is the result of decades of experience, iteration, experimentation, and ongoing refinement. The idea that Apple can somehow deliver something that can compete with Google is laughable, especially because Apple’s current search capabilities are far from encouraging.
Apple is still trying to nail search on a smaller scale
While search on the iPhone has gotten better in recent years, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Oftentimes, relying on iOS to find a specific file or document is an exercise in frustration. Whether it’s a file in iCloud or a phrase in Notes I’m looking for, often typing in the exact filename or search string yields nothing of use. To this point, a thread on the Apple subreddit is full of comical examples regarding the iPhone’s subpar search capabilities. I myself stopped using Mail’s built-in search entirely as it never works as it should
One comment on Reddit reads:
Apple doesn’t even have what it needs to find an app in Spotlight or a song in Music. You wouldn’t be able to use an Apple search engine to find the correct spelling of a word because you would get no results if you were even one letter off. When you did get results, they would sometimes be completely unrelated to what you actually searched for because that’s what Siri does.
Why would anyone want to use this anyway? There are already plenty of perfectly acceptable options for a search engine. I haven’t used Google for search in 6 years or so. It’s effortless to switch from that without any help from Apple. Who wants every single product and service in their life to be owned and controlled by a single corporation? Don’t people like variety?
Apple only enters a market when it can offer something different
At the same time, there’s no denying that Apple has incredible engineers working on search. And it obviously goes without saying that Apple has an endless amount of resources to pour into all of its search-based initiatives. That said, Apple has made it clear that it will only enter a brand new market when its own product can deliver an improved user experience.
As Apple executive Greg Joswiak said many years ago: “If you can’t enter the market and try and be the best in it, don’t enter it. You need that differentiation. At Apple, if we can’t be the best then we are not interested in it.”
Put differently, why would Apple enter the search market to deliver a product that, in a best-case scenario, is as good as Google? Why would Apple say goodbye to its lucrative search engine deal with Google?
Even in a hypothetical scenario where Apple can no longer accept money for search engine placement, it still makes sense, from a user perspective, to keep Google as the default simply because it’s the best. Rolling out a search engine — especially given Apple’s obsession with user privacy — doesn’t make much economic or practical sense. And to the issue of privacy, is Apple really going to roll out a privacy-oriented search engine? If so, that would be more like another iteration of DuckDuckGo as opposed to a full-fledged Google competitor. DuckDuckGo is great, but there’s no denying that Google is still the undisputed behemoth of search.
An Apple search engine is intriguing but not realistic
The Bloomberg article concludes:
In the long run, Google may be the best option until Apple thinks it has a better mousetrap. Apple already designs its own chips, operates an App Store, sells music online, offers video and gaming services, and has an in-house maps app that competes with Google.
The only thing missing is a full-blown Apple search engine. And while one won’t be launched anytime soon, it may be closer than you think.
A full-blown search engine doesn’t make much sense, especially because Apple has shown it doesn’t have a sincere interest in making ad-based revenue a serious part of its business model. Besides, what type of differentiated user experience would Apple be able to offer? Right now, Google is already doing all of the heavy lifting to provide Android and iOS users alike with a best-in-class service. What’s the rationale for Apple investing in something that would likely be subpar by comparison?