Apple Lays Groundwork for Disrupting Google’s Search Business

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We did not enter the search business. They [Google] entered the phone business. Make no mistake they want to kill the iPhone. We won’t let them. - Steve Jobs, 2010

There were a few themes that were clear in Monday's keynote from Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC). For instance, Apple laid the groundwork for iWatch being a health and fitness monitoring device, Apple is very focused on continuing to develop an integrated ecosystem where devices work well together, and Apple is committed to making both iOS and OS X developer-friendly and state-of-the-art.

Those are all important concepts, but there was another that was even more interesting: Apple is gunning for Google's bread and butter, search. I don't mean a search engine, per se, though such a product is still in the cards. What Apple showed us on Monday is that it intends to make our most common searches something we do without going directly to a search engine Google.

I haven't seen anyone else talking about this, so allow me to lay out my case, starting with Spotlight's expanded branding and abilities.

Spotlight

Apple is branding Spotlight across both iOS and OS X these days. In Mavericks (and earlier versions of OS X), you could use Spotlight to launch applications and search for documents on your Mac. The intrepid could use it to search Mail, search images (by name), or launch a Google search in your browser.

In iOS 7, you can "Search iPhone" to find local apps, find contacts, search for music, search Mail, launch a search in your browser, or search Wikipedia.

On Monday, we were shown how Spotlight could be used to search for apps on the App Store—apps you haven't yet purchased, that is. You can also use it to search for movies, both in iTunes and in the theater, points of interest, news, songs, both those you own and songs on iTunes, directions, and restaurants.

This is a significant expansion of "Spotlight," and the fact that it's being branded across OS X, iOS, and Safari is just as significant.

Spotlight Search

Note the "Spotlight Search" as opposed to "Search iPhone"

Safari Favorites

When Brian Croll came on stage to show us Safari in OS X Yosemite, one of the first things he showed us was how clicking in the "search field," which used to be the URL field, brings up your favorites. Again, note the expansion of Spotlight to Safari, and note the emphasis of "search" in the main Safari interface.

The message being delivered to users is that you search in Safari, not some remote search engine.

Also, many people go to the website of their choice by searching for it in Google. They do this every single time, no matter how many times they've gone to a particular site. For folks like that, you use the Internet by going to Google and searching for a company or other site, period.

This may even be more common than what geeks like me do, which is to go directly to the URL when we know what is.

Apple has always offered a Favorites Bar in Safari, but this new feature in Yosemite an iOS 8 does double duty as both a favorites bar and an in-your-face visual for those who normally search for "apple" instead of just going directly to apple.com.

Safari Favorites

Favorites are in-your-face, no Google needed

That will reduce Google's traffic. Maybe not by a whole lot, but I think Apple's goal here is death-by-a-thousand cuts, rather than a knockout blow Apple could never deliver in the first place.

Next: The Power of Suggestion

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Comments

Jamie

I also noticed the continued emphasis on privacy sprinkled throughout the entire keynote, and I had similar thoughts. As privacy advocacy continues to further pervade public consciousness, this could be a very big deal for Apple. smile

aardman

@Jamie I am waiting for the big reveal of the Apple Manifesto that starts with “You are not our product, you are our customer . . .  ” 

Perhaps the time isn’t ripe yet, but as public concern over the loss of privacy and anonymity approaches hysteria, Apple could deal a well-timed lethal blow on the twin busybodies of the digital age, Google and Facebook.

vpndev

Privacy IS important to Apple and I trust much more of my information to it than I do to Google. Which is none, except that I don’t know about.

This is a HUGE differentiator.

Lee Dronick

Over a year ago I switched to Bing as my default search engine.

MOSiX Man

Google is currently king of the generic web search. Apple appears to be pushing towards being top of the heap in presenting search results in a much more practically and user friendly fashion. I think that the new Spotlight will be the great, new feature (of many) that I will use most in Yosemite and iOS 8.

Wigs

I’ve been using Duck Duck Go for quite a while now and I really like it: it’s got a very clean interface, doesn’t collect your data and provides good search results. Apple has just announced that users will now be able to use Duck Duck Go within Safari on iOS, which is great. There’s been speculation about how Apple behind the scenes has been ‘looking into search’, but I think the answer is quite simple. Apple should splash the cash and buy Duck Duck Go. It would be an acquisition that would in one stroke put Apple in the search game (whilst being honest to one of their core values, that of respecting user privacy) and the Duck Duck Go founders and employees could continue to do what they do best with large wads of cash in their pockets. It’s a great fit all round!

mrboba1

I had been using StartPage for keeping my searches private, but after checking out Duck, I much prefer it. Much leaner and cleaner and it doesn’t use the Google engine.

It would be a nice addition to Apple’s portfolio, but I hope they stay independent! smile

Arnold Ziffel

I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for at least the past two years and NEVER use Guugle search. DDG does a fine job, and I feel good knowing they aren’t selling me to the highest bidder.

Arnold Ziffel

Before DDG, I used Scroogle.org for anonymous searches, but Guugle did something that caused them to have to shut their doors.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

This is an interesting take, Bryan. I think it falls under Rocco Pendola’s recent theme of Apple building the walls around the garden higher and higher. He’s a fan of the value that creates. I think at some point though, it’s going to piss off people who use some Apple products, but for whatever reason, aren’t all in on the ecosystem. I watched the live blogging of the keynote and saw a lot of things I just won’t care about because they only integrate Apple products.

To privacy… You don’t get social driven auto-complete without sending partial search strings up to Google as you type. I find that a valuable feature of Chrome, especially when I don’t quite know what I’m looking for. There’s a trade-off there.

Back to the integrated garden. There is a trade-off there as well. Yeah, you get all these integrated features, but you can’t make mobile apps without Apple’s finger in the pie. Having to ask permission is an absolute non-starter for many applications. That’s fine for me, because these applications are driven to the web, where many ought to be anyway. But it’s not the best experience possible. Apple only allows the best experience when you allow them to be an active party to it. That will continue to be as big an argument against Apple as privacy is to Google.

Arnold Ziffel

Brad,

If I remember correctly what Craig Federighi said in the keynote, one’s keystrokes used in auto-complete do not leave one’s device ( while using iOS). Thus, no Guugle involved.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Arnold, My point is that when those keystrokes do leave, for example, the Chrome browser, they actually do some work for you in terms of socially driven auto-complete, which is a valuable feature for many. You can’t do socially driven auto-complete without having a very large database instantly at the ready, a database which is too large to keep on your device, and a database which doesn’t work effectively without integrating the keystrokes. By contrast, Apple probably can keep enough data on the device to auto-complete your own stuff (locally or in the cloud) meaningfully.

vpndev

Bosco and Arnold: there are two separate things here ... keystrokes-for-autocomplete and Spotlight suggestions.

I think what Federighi said is that keystrokes for autocomplete do not leave the device, but no-one said that about Spotlight Suggestions. They’re two separate things - if I understand it correctly.

mrmwebmax

+

Here are some additional thoughts from John C. Dvorak on Apple building its own search engine. I don’t always agree with him, but there are some good insights here, especially that 1) Google’s search results could stand improvement, and 2) Apple’s sitting on enough cash to create something better:

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2458892,00.asp

Terrin

I too have been using Bing. There are many things I prefer about it over Google. I like the layout of the information better, and the daily photo. I also like that Microsoft pays me to use the service by giving me points I can redeem for things like Starbucks.

I have used Duckduckgo in the past as well and find it enjoyable to use. I, however, still have to go with Bing for now.

Terrin

Bosco:

Apple seems to be making efforts to be more inclusive than ever with things like improved support for Windows and Android in iMessage. Also, there is nothing from preventing users from creating web apps for iOS. Apple is selling an ecosystem. Nothing wrong with adding value to that ecosystem.

You are right to the extent if you want to run full fledged IOS Apps you have to go through Apple. For the most part, that doesn’t bother me, but there have been a few Apps I use that Apple has pulled the plug on for a variety of mostly political reasons. Yet, on a whole the Apple App Store is a positive.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Terrin, my perspective comes as a solution developer. Not being able to sideload apps without permission is an impediment with zero benefits for me or my customers. We’re not in business to cheerlead Apple. Having to ask permission has costs and risks.

The wider point is that there are trade-offs.

Blissmonkey

Great article.  Enjoyed it immensely.

Bryan Chaffin

Thanks, Blissmonkey.

And thanks to everyone for the conversation in these comments.

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