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Apple Search Engine

The tech giant is poised to launch a search engine to rival Google. That's potentially great news for those that value their privacy.

Apple’s entry into the search engine market comes a decade after Microsoft’s Bing made its debut, the only other noteworthy (by size) competitor to Google to date.

Bing is by no means a success story, and it doesn't come close to Google's economic performance and market power. Unlike Microsoft’s Bing, however, Apple’s opening gambit is almost certainly going to be very different and is therefore likely to produce a better outcome.

Probably the central mistake Microsoft made with the launch of Bing was to follow the same ad-based business model that Google was using. In this business model, search users enter what they are looking for, and based on that the search engine also shows relevant ads that might interest them. For such a business to be profitable, you need a very large number of users searching, as well as a large number of advertisers willing to sell to them, alongside millions of websites scanned by the previously mentioned search bots. All three are needed to display useful search results for the user and bring the right customer to the advertiser.

In between, Google gets paid for matching the right ads with the right users. The more searches are made, the more useful the results. The more useful the results, the better is the ad targeting. Bing struggled to get this virtuous cycle started, and never really got to the scale that Google enjoys with its search offering.

There are, of course, other search engines available apart from Google and Bing. For example, Ecosia (reviewed by OGN in July). Instead of taking the revenue generated by your searches, Ecosia translates its income into planting trees. Millions of them. But, back to the Google v Apple search battle:

Apple’s search engine is expected to have a different business model to Google, and is likely to centre on user privacy, extending Apple's “privacy-first” policy. With privacy at its core, Apple chooses not to make money from advertising, which involves exposing customer usage data to third parties. Instead, it could simply sell more of its highly profitable devices and subscriptions to privacy-conscious customers. By not following Google’s footsteps, Apple does not have to engage with the search giant on its terms.

Therefore, Apple’s search results need to be “just good enough” to be adopted by its users en masse. An interesting parallel example of this is Apple maps, which was launched back in 2012. Despite a publicly rocky launch thanks to its poor geographic coverage, Apple maps gained a dominant market share of 60 percent in the UK’s iPhone users in just under a year of launch. The same holds true for Apple Music, which has become the second-biggest player in streaming music despite Spotify's nine year headstart.

With its latest iOS 14 update, Apple has already started swapping out Google search results in favour of its own. Most iOS users have barely noticed the change for all the reasons given above. But this silent swapping does not come without its own set of challenges. By defaulting to its search engine instead of Google on its devices, Apple will open itself to monopoly criticism from competition commissions in a variety of markets. It is also likely to upset the advertising industry who could lose their reach to Apple customers. The Apple customer base is a coveted one thanks to its better than average buying power, and by making it easier for users to avoid search ads, Apple might just create a tectonic shift in the advertising industry as a whole.

Google’s dominance on internet search will not come to an end with Apple’s entry into the foray, but it would definitely weaken in the face of increasing consumer preference for privacy. Given that Google’s business model differs dramatically from Apple’s, it is likely that the search giant would have to learn to uncomfortably live with its rival’s search engine instead of pivoting to compete with it head-on.



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