Apple could build its own search engine alternative to Google on iPhone

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Apple search
Coming to an iPhone near you?
Photo: Cult of Mac

Apple could be working on a search engine of its own to replace Google on iOS devices, unnamed sources tell the Financial Times.

This could be linked to the current Justice Department antitrust suit probing the way Google pays to be the standard search engine on iOS.

According to the Financial Times, Apple has been recruiting more search engineers. A couple of years ago, it notably hired Google search boss John Giannandrea. (To be clear, Giannandrea heads up Apple’s AI efforts.) In addition, the FT claims that Apple’s web crawler service AppleBot has been more active as of late. The report notes that:

“In a little-noticed change to the latest version of the iPhone operating system, iOS 14, Apple has begun to show its own search results and link directly to websites when users type queries from its home screen.

That web search capability marks an important advance in Apple’s in-house development and could form the foundation of a fuller attack on Google, according to several people in the industry.”

No timeline is given for Apple’s alleged search project.

The deal between Apple and Google

The deal between Apple and Google, while not often discussed, in one of the biggest deals in tech. Over the weekend, the New York Times wrote that:

“Apple now receives an estimated $8 billion to $12 billion in annual payments — up from $1 billion a year in 2014 — in exchange for building Google’s search engine into its products. It is probably the single biggest payment that Google makes to anyone and accounts for 14 to 21 percent of Apple’s annual profits.”

Based on the fact that the Google and Apple deal has been going on for over a decade, it would seem like both parties are happy with it. The money Apple gets from Google is immense. Google, for its part, gets almost half its traffic from Apple devices. That means Google would arguably lose out more than Apple — since it would be hard to replace that lost traffic.

Ditching Google for its own search?

The idea that Apple would build its own search engine isn’t as ridiculous as it might sound. The notion of launching a search engine in a world that has Google seems like an enormous challenge. But having Apple Search (or whatever it would be called) baked into iPhone and iPads would immediately mean a whole lot of usage — even if people didn’t actively visit, say, AppleSearch.com. That’s a bit like how Bing is actually a sleeper success for Microsoft, since Bing powers a whole lot of Microsoft products.

Aside from the lost Google revenue, however, the big challenge for Apple would be building a service of comparable quality. Everyone who used iOS back in 2012 likely remembers the disastrous Apple Maps first iteration. Apple Maps has since gotten better. But there was a time when ditching Google for its own homemade rival certainly didn’t please customers.

What do you think about the Apple Search report? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Source: Financial Times