Apple may be about to take on Google with its own search engine


Could Apple really dump Google search? Photo: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac
Could an Apple-branded search engine disrupt the established likes of Google? Photo: Cult of Mac

Having gone “thermonuclear war” on Google after it discovered that it was following Apple into smartphones, Apple may be about to turn the tables on its Mountain View rivals — by entering the search engine business.

Apple is currently looking to hire an engineering project manager for something called Apple Search. The position would be based in San Francisco, and requires a program manager to oversee backend operations for a “search platform supporting hundreds of millions of users.”

The ad notes that the successful candidate will, “Play a part in revolutionizing how people use their computers and mobile devices.”

While Apple would certainly be a late-arrival on the search scene (even Microsoft beat it by five years), there’s evidence that Apple has been considering the move for quite some time. Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster has been claiming there is a “70 per cent chance” Apple would enter the mobile search engine space since 2010.

Yes, admittedly Munster is the same guy who’s been banging on about an Apple TV set for as far back as we can remember, but there are a few interesting tidbits which lead us to believe he may be onto something. In late 2012, Apple hired search guru William Stasior: a veteran of both Amazon and AltaVista. Then, last year, developer Jan Moesen discovered a web-crawling bot originating from Apple’s servers.

At the same time, Apple has debuted Siri, a type of next-generation search technology (internally it was referred to as a “do engine” instead of a “search engine” due to its ability to usefully implement search results rather than just presenting them), as well as bolstering the Spotlight Search feature in OS X Yosemite.

Although there’s a good chance Apple’s new advertised position is to augment the existing Spotlight Search rather than moving into full-blown Google territory, it’s worth pointing out that Apple’s long-running search agreement with Google for its Safari browser expires this year. If Apple was ever going to enter the search market, now would be seem to be the right time.

To use a Google-ism, are you feeling lucky?

Thanks: Mike

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  • aaloo

    I switched to duckduckgo as my default search engine. It works just as good as Google for my needs without all the tracking and ads. If Apple comes up with their own search engine, that’ll be a real cause of butt hurt for Google. In the end, it’ll be good for consumers. Just look at Apple maps. Google improved their maps in iOS so much after Apple maps debuted.

    • Jack487

      I’ve been using DDG for a little while now and had to disable it – if you’ll notice, it doesn’t save the site clicked on from a search into your history. Bug already reported to Apple and DDG – found the same bug report to DDG filed back over a year ago by another customer.

      • aaloo

        I’ve not noticed that. Good to know.

    • William D

      Isn’t DuckDuckGo essentially google under the covers ?

      • aaloo

        I’m not sure.

      • William D

        I take it back. It probably includes Google but here’s a quote from thier site/

        “DuckDuckGo gets its results from over one hundred sources, including DuckDuckBot (our own crawler), crowd-sourced sites (like Wikipedia, which are stored in our own index), Yahoo! (through BOSS), Yandex, Yelp, and Bing. For any given search, there is usually a vertical search engine out there that does a better job at answering it than a general search engine. Our long-term goal is to get you information from that best source, ideally in instant answer form.”

        Now THIS is a strategy I can see Apple doing. A robust multitalented backend with an elegent and innovated Apple desgined front end.

    • Antonio D’souza

      What I can’t seem to figure out is how DDG plans to stay in business if they never make any money. They must not be paying you that much to leave these comments all over the Web…

      • aaloo

        They are paying me truck loads of money. You should send them an email and ask to be hired.

  • thatboy

    Looking forward to this!

  • mathieulefrancois

    I think it has more to do with App Store/Spotlight/etc search than Apple working towards their own search engine. Let’s face it, Apple Maps launched pretty much as awful as you can get for a service. The Search engine space is already filled with competitors and the only one making money is Google. I’ve tried DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yahoo and none of them come close to Google. Some are better here and there for certain things, but overall Google wins hands down for having a very strong product. I doubt Apple would waste resources on a product that’s pretty much doomed to be either a failure or minor player.

    • djr12

      I agree on improving iTunes Store/App Store search — it’s actually kind of embarrassing how bad it is. When it comes to the iTunes store, eliminating whatever algorithm they have and using a straight up search based only on the name of the product would quite literally produce 10x better results. And search on Maps is almost as bad.

      That said, I disagree on how much better Google is than its competitors. I switched to Yahoo (which I guess is just a skin of Bing) probably five years ago now, and I find what I’m looking for, just like I did with Google. They do a lot of R&D in other areas, but I don’t think there’s anything particularly special about their search per se at this point in time.

      And the *really* intriguing thing, from a “thermonuclear war” perspective, is that if Apple can just buy or hire their way into competence in this area, they have two massive things going for them: 1, they can switch over the default in their devices to Apple Search or whatever they call it and immediately gain a ton of market share. And 2, imagine that market share leverage paired with a simple marketing message: our search is ad-free and doesn’t data mine you.

      If they got the search part right (admittedly a giant “if” they haven’t nearly shown they can do), they could actually decimate Google with that combination. If there are two search engines, one as good as the other, and one of them serves up crappy ads, and the other gives you only what you search for — why wouldn’t you use the second one? Especially if it’s already the default on your phone.

      • mathieulefrancois

        Bing/Yahoo sucks anywhere outside of the US.

        Apple wouldn’t decimate Google at all though. They’d have to convince most people to use Apple’s search over what they’re already used to using… It’s hard to break habit. Plus anybody who doesn’t use Apple products (yes that’s a majority) wouldn’t really be using Apple Search overall.

        It’d be interesting to have more competition, but I don’t think Google would be shaking in it’s boots.

      • djr12

        I don’t have any experience outside the US so I’ll have to take your word for it.

        I was using decimated in the proper sense, not the current mistaken “destroy” sense. In other words, I think it would take away a sizable chunk of their business, not wipe them out. The only proof you need of that is the fact that they are willing to pay Apple to be the default search engine. If it didn’t matter to them, they wouldn’t do that.

        It’s true that Apple Search, out of the gate, wouldn’t be the dominant search engine, because as you say most people aren’t using Apple products. And yet… it would probably become the dominant search engine in the tablet space immediately. It would get a massive chunk of the mobile phone search usage right out of the gate…

        And given that they’ve already drawn blood (at least to judge by Eric Schmidt’s transparently nonsensical and defensive reaction to their criticisms) on the privacy/security issue, I think it would be very interesting indeed to see them position themselves as basically DDG (we don’t invade your privacy) on steroids. You could say that Microsoft tried and failed with Bing, despite a huge built-in customer base. And it’s true. But (a) it’s Microsoft. Come on. And (b) they weren’t explicitly offering privacy-based, no-ad searching.

        I think a search engine that doesn’t distort its results with ad-based bias and doesn’t mine your data could be a very appealing proposition for a lot of people. They won’t wipe Google out, sure. But if they even caused them to lose 20% of their ad revenue, it would be a huge hit.

        Now, as to whether Apple could actually pull off the search thing…. that’s a whole other story.

      • mathieulefrancois

        Who would pay Apple for the search to be default? Did I miss something?

        DDG has interesting ideas, but the overall experience isn’t near what Google offers. (Once again in Canada DDG sucks. Anything local related Google blows the rest out of the water at least here in Canada)

        Apple would get dominant mobile search on iPhone only. The majority of mobile phones in the world aren’t iPhone or iOS. So no it wouldn’t be dominant in mobile.

        I’m not worried about Google, they take their users security and privacy very seriously. I know most Apple fans like to believe otherwise, but if you actually do look at what Google does it’s no more than selling anonymous data. Doesn’t track back to anyone.

      • djr12

        Editors seem to have squashed my original reply for some reason, but yes — Google has paid Apple to be the default iOS search engine. There are all kinds of stories in the tech press right now about Yahoo and Microsoft jockeying to replace them. It’s highly valuable positioning.

        I think most people share your trust of Google — or rather don’t really think about data mining and other things too much and therefore don’t care. But of those who pay attention there are probably a lot who would jump ship for a less invasive search engine if they could. Google is no more invulnerable than anyone else.

      • orthorim

        Good discussion; yes Google is paying Apple to be the default search engine although no one knows how much.

        Google Maps took a huge hit when Apple removed it from the iPhone; so Google is well aware that this is important.

        I don’t think anyone (and I mean normal people) care about privacy – even if you tell them Google is tracking their every move, they won’t be concerned. This is not an issue except for a very small, vocal crowd of the elite.

        However – search matters to Apple because it’s a key functionality. In fact it’s the ONLY key functionality on the iphone that Apple does not outright control. I can guarantee you that Apple is working on search for that reason alone. They want control; they want to protect their user’s privacy. Not because it makes more sales for them today but because it’s part of their vision, and Apple philosophy is that having their customers best interest in mind even when the customers don’t see it that way – that is what got them to where they are today.

        It matters a great deal to Google because of the numbers. In the last 3 months of 2014, 1% of the earth’s population bought an iPhone 6.

        These numbers are getting so big it’s hard to imagine. They are very much big enough to matter to Google.

        PS: Bing is garbage so if Apple were to sell the search engine positioning to Microsoft it would be a huge blunder. I think Tim Cook is better than that.

        I think Apple should buy one of the AI startups and start applying AI to search. AI has gotten amazing of late, the last few years have seen breakthroughs in all kinds of areas. If anything can beat Google search, it’s that.

      • djr12

        ortho, I think you’re right that most people don’t care. I think perhaps Apple could make more of them care with a marketing campaign. That doesn’t seem like Apple’s style, really. But then again, neither does taking on Google in search.

        As for Bing, as I said, I think I already use them as my search engine via Yahoo. And aren’t they what Apple uses through Siri already? So apparently they’re not opposed to choosing Bing over Google.

        The AI angle is definitely intriguing. TBH I’d love to see anything that gives Google its comeuppance. Jobs was a blowhard in some areas, but he was right on this one: they stole his phone.

      • orthorim

        Choosing Bing over Google is a weak move IMO because it still leaves search in control of somebody outside the company. Why they used it for SIRI – I can imagine Google might just have said no to that, in order to lessen Apple’s advantage (they’ve since caught up and actually now have much better voice recognition than Apple)

        Could also be SIRI is a testbed for Apple to figure out how to take back control of search. Using SIRI as a sort of arbiter of search results would after all give them control: All search goes through SIRI, which routes it to Bing, Wolfram Alpha, and anyone else they choose, or even their own search service – as long as Apple’s servers decide where a search is going Apple has control. Come to think of it that would be a very good reason for Google to say no to it – Google needs to own the search terms, they can’t be made a slave of Apple’s servers.

        As for revenge – Tim Cook is smarter than that. He’s very comfortable with having frenemies, as Samsung proves. He’ll be just as happy with a Google frenemy. And he’s winning, so who can argue… revenge is not on the cards, not now, and not ever. This is where Cook is better than Jobs, hands down.

      • Jack487

        I’d like to see Apple get together with a few other key players (MS being one among them) to form a search consortium and roll out a new search site. Whomever doesn’t think something like this would materially affect Google has their heads buried in the sand.

        Every Apple device, most MS devices defaulting to this search. Many Android devices as well – those falling outside of Google’s influence.

        How long would it take before Google was no longer the most visited search engine? It wouldn’t happen over night, but it would happen eventually.

      • Jack487

        You have literally, no idea. I envy your ignorance, at least you’re at peace.

    • veggiedude

      Yes, Google is the best but comes at a price. I try to avoid as much as possible.

      • mathieulefrancois

        The price being what? I use Google for everything, because it provides me with the best results. Do they serve ads to me? Yes they do, but do I care? Absolutely not!

      • orthorim

        You’re the product Google is selling to their customers.

        I know – most people don’t care, or think it’s a fair deal. I’d rather opt out.

    • orthorim

      You’re totally right that Google is far superior to other services, and as long as that remains so Apple will keep using them.
      But it’s tech – no technological advantage lasts forever.

  • William D

    I can just picture the fiasco of it crashing or being in beta for years like the rest of their Services. Frankly I think they, if this is true (which I reckon is actually more a story referring to buildog out Siri/spotlight etc than a traditional search engine) they will be very cautious and take their time. They can’t have another broken Maps attempt and Tim
    Cook is far smarter than to let this happen. (Then again he has let iCloud photos to leave the barn half in beta and half MIA)

  • orthorim

    Apple is interested in making the best products; and they are dead set on controlling all critical parts of the user experience.
    The most important user experience on the iPhone that Apple does not yet control? Search.
    So from that perspective it would be surprising if Apple wasn’t working on search.

    With Siri they now have a lot of data on what people are actually looking for – one of the huge advantages that Google and others have is the history of previous searches.
    Google has long been the unquestioned champion in search; but it’s conceivable that their advantage might erode over time. In fact given the rapid progress in artificial intelligence lately I think it’s only a matter of time before a machine learning based web indexer beats Google.

    • Antonio D’souza

      What makes you think this machine learning indexer won’t be built by Google itself?

      • William D

        If they do go down the path of their “own” search engine, its bound to be based on Bing or Google backend and have a snazy front consumer-end. it just makes more sense you’re right.

  • The Pool Man

    I’d advise Apple to —

    1. Hire the best software types out there. Folks who made Google, Facebook, Dropbox. A SERIOUS team. And they have the money. Ooodles of it. But —

    2. — they won’t have to throw simply money at these people. They can attach something to the $$$ to make it interesting. That is — work for Google, get paid $$$ but screw over fellow man. Work for Apple, make the same money and become a hero. How?

    3. Create a private variant of Google search. iSearch. Local to your devices are stored histories of searches (if you so choose) so that iSearch can kinda predict your fave raves. (as Google does). However, that info is stored locally — and Apple doesn’t use it for jack. This would, in effect, take user profiles off the grid. Next —

    4. Create a private variant of Facebook. iWorld. (If you know that reference, you’ve got grey hairs too.) iWorld would be very similar to Facebook but offer one key difference: PRIVACY. Who you know, who you chat with, and all that sort of thing is kept between you and Apple. Perhaps even a local version offering would be made available to us. So that only your page is posted on the server but all friend connections and such are locally stored. Something to this effect.

    RESULT: Apple would offer what we should of all had in the first place. Control over our iPerson. PRIVACY. How to get people to switch?

    5. Apple has a killer brand. But there are the haters. Most haters would have to admit, though, that REAL privacy would make Apple VERY interesting.

    6. To get switchers, go use the extremely simple and already popular iOS. But wait — I mean you must buy an iPhone to have privacy? Nope.

    7. iOS should become iCloud. That on any device or computer you log in, go fullscreen, and suddenly you have a private iWorld running iOS. That Apple’s Facebook is this iWorld. On Macs and iDevices this functionality is native.

    8. Need millions of users overnight? Reward all switchers with free service for life during the first year. If you refuse to switch, it becomes an inexpensive pay service. People would watch friends say BYE BYE on Facebook and each would warn them that if they don’t at least set up an account, they’ll wish they did.

    PRIVACY is the trump card in all this. If Apple doesn’t offer it, they’ll offer nothing new.

  • Maxi

    Good Google alternatives are really hard to find, but I’ve replaced it with Duckduckgo and the Swiss search engine Swisscows. Both are so much better than Google and dont collect or share any of my personal information.

  • Nate Somsen

    It’s an interesting thought that Apple may be creating a search engine. I could see an eventual success, not because of an effective search engine, but because how popular apple products have become and how lazy people would be to change any search preferences on their iPhones and browsers…

    I think another selling point (if Apple is to have any success) would be later down the road would be to establish webmaster tools, and analytical tracking data just like Google currently provides.

  • k

    Logic & numbers prove android/Google are want to be.

    Googla gets data limit revenue from reloads and keyboard nuances.

    Your carrier is in collusion. We filmed googlas not “smart” pocketbook Android.

  • k

    Android should be banned.

  • k

    Speed vs money vs reloads vs “signal” (default)

    Buy more data because our reloads are “smart & cloud”

    Pocketbook. Dishonest.

  • DDno

    DDG partners with Yandex, a Russian search engine. I’m skeptical DDG is as private as they claim based on that. Ixquick seems to be a better choice for privacy.