Apple Lays Groundwork for Disrupting Google's Search Business

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.


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

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

Page 2 - The Power of Suggestion

Spotlight Suggestions

Next are suggested results called Spotlight Suggestions that supersede Google's autocomplete suggestions. Start typing, and common terms will return suggestions Apple thinks you might be looking for. These are similar to Google's autocomplete, but there's actual information, and you aren't using Google to get it.

That is so significant.

In our example on Monday, Mr. Croll typed "ansel," and the first suggested result was "Ansel Adams" on Wikipedia, including a blurb and a thumbnail image of Mr. Adams.

"If I hit return," Mr. Croll said, " I can just go do a regular old Google search. But, since Ansel Adams is a common search term, I get this new Spotlight Suggestion at the top. It has a snippet of information from Wikipedia. I can read it there, or if I'd like, I can go ahead and see the entire article on the Wikipedia site."

To emphasize my point, you can do this without ever touching Google.

Spotlight Suggestions

Spotlight Suggestions in Safari in Yosemite

"Common search terms" are hardly every search, but do you remember when Tim Cook and other Apple executives introduced Siri? They said that local search represented 80 percent of all searches, and that Siri was targeting those searches.

Apple's new Spotlight features target those same local searches, with the addition of these "common search terms" and Spotlight Suggestions. Apple isn't trying to compete directly with, the company is simply targeting a major chunk of what people usually do at

One more thing: note the language used to describe the Google search. "Regular old." Apple uses language with the same care as a dedicated novelist, and I think using these words in this context was a deliberate effort to denigrate search engine searches and make them appear outdated.

It's death by a thousand cuts.

The Importance of Search

Apple is rumored to have a search engine in development, something that could be called "Found." I don't know if that's ever going to come to market, but in that Steve Jobs quote I started this piece with, we got all the clue we needed that Apple was thinking about search.

"We didn't go into search," he said. Kind of like how he said Apple would never add videos to the iPod because, "It's about the music, stupid."

Search is Google's bread and butter. The company makes most of its profit from search, from desktop search at that. In the mobile world, Google reportedly makes more money from iOS users than it does in its own, much larger Android ecosystem.

I think Apple is focused on taking some of that search business away from Google. Not by launching its own search engine like Microsoft did with Bing. That's me-too thinking, and Apple usually competes by disrupting a market obliquely.

All of these new search features won't make search engines Google obsolete, but by turning a lot of the most common searches into something you can get without a search engine, Apple will eat into that business. More importantly, it will do so among one of the most lucrative demographics on the planet, Apple customers.

Turning to Privacy for a Competitive Edge

I had one more Google moment in the keynote I wanted to mention. It came at the one hour mark, when Craig Federighi introduced QuickType, Apple's take on predictive typing.

"It learns how you type," he said, "and when it does, it does so in a way that is always protecting your privacy. All that learning is done local to the device and none of you keystrokes leave your device."

The audience started clapping then, and you know why? Because privacy is important. Apple is pitching itself as the company trying to protect your privacy, rather than exploit it.

I could be reading too much into this—and in all the things I discuss in this column—but it seems like Apple may finally be willing to use privacy to gain a competitive edge. We all know that Google's business model is about selling highly detailed profiles on we, the product, to advertisers, and here Apple made the point that it built QuickType with privacy in mind.