Search Wars: Apple vs. Google?

Search Wars: Apple vs. Google?

Is Apple on a mission to rival Google in search?

With a UK market share of almost 90%, Google's pre-eminent search engine continues to dominate year after year. The nearest competitors, Bing and Yahoo, catch the scraps that fall from the table with a combined share of only 6%. Indeed, I find it difficult to imagine any new technology shift that could threaten Google – a claim that could once be said of Nokia, Kodak and Blackberry.

Meanwhile, another heavyweight tech firm by the name of Apple reported the largest 2014 Q4 net income of any publicly traded company in history. With an ever-increasing cash position, Apple – literally – cannot spend its cash faster than it makes it.

So what happens when these two juggernauts collide? Well, they certainly have in the past over issues, including mobile operating systems, apps, maps and music stores. But now, if rumours are to be believed, it seems Apple may be setting its sights on creating a credible search engine, based on a much tighter integration of Siri, Safari and Spotlight on mobile devices. Of course, this would have serious implications for Google's mobile search revenue, 75% ($8.8bn) of which is estimated to come from Apple devices.

There appears to be substance to the rumours, too. In addition to alluding to its planned search engine during the Worldwide Developer Conference in June, Apple has posted scores of engineering and analyst job vacancies to build up its 'Apple Search' team, with the job summary reading as follows:

"Apple's new Spotlight Suggestions service provides fast, relevant search results from the internet in Spotlight and Safari on iOS and OS X. The Spotlight Suggestions service is built on a massive amount of data trawled from the Internet, sourced from feeds and generated from user interactions with search results."

It seems an obvious step for Apple: improvements easy to position externally as enhancements to usability and app integration, and equally as attractive to shareholders, who are almost guaranteed yet more revenue from mobile search. If I was to guess at Apple's motivations, I would say they are threefold: reduce the reliance on third-party mobile search providers such as Google and Bing; establish another controlled link in the iOS ecosystem chain, thereby becoming the default gateway to the internet; and get a piece of the advertising revenue pie.

If Apple does succeed in creating a mobile search service to rival Google's focus on relevancy and user-intent (no mean feat), it introduces a number of potential implications for marketers. We will have yet another platform to add to our channels: search engine optimisation, maps, local listings, tighter integration of videos and music, etc. However, the biggest opportunities probably lie in mobile paid search, with the potential for campaigns focused on search results offering click-to-call (comparable to Adwords) and click-to-install for apps.

How potentially threatening is an Apple mobile search engine to Google's revenue and growth? In 2015, online search achieved a historic milestone, with Google announcing that searches on mobile devices had officially surpassed desktop computers. The implications of this are obvious and inevitable: advertising spend will soon follow suit and begin to contribute the majority of ad revenue for Google after 2016. Therefore, we have to assume the loss of iOS users would make a serious dent in Google's ad revenue forecasts.

Of course, much of this is still just rumour. But things can change quickly and unexpectedly in the tech world. Remember Nokia and Kodak?

David Lindop Digital Marketing Consultant
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