Apple shows signs it may soon launch a search engine to compete with Google Search

Changes to Spotlight Search on iOS and iPadOS 14 beta, a major update to its Applebot support page, and an increase in crawling from AppleBot mean Apple may soon be launching a search engine.

For several years it has been reported that Google pays billions of dollars to Apple to remain the default search engine on Safari for iOS, iPadOS and macOS. The agreement ensures that iPhone, iPad and Mac users search with Google when using Safari. Unless they manually change the default search engine in Safari preferences.

The agreement between Apple and Google could soon be coming to an end. In July 2020, Reuters reported that the UK Competition and Markets Authority was aim for the deal.

Given the impact of preinstalls and defects on mobile devices and Apple’s large market share, we believe that Apple’s existing agreements with Google create a significant barrier to entry and expansion. for rivals affecting search engine competition on mobiles.

UK Competition and Markets Authority Report

If UK regulators act, there could be a ripple effect from the European Union, which has a history of sue Google for anti-competitive behavior. Regulators in Europe can force Apple to remove Google as the default search engine and let users choose which search engine they want to use when they first launch Safari.

Why Apple might launch a search engine

Regulatory pressure, a contentious relationship with Google, and the maturation of Apple’s Siri and iCloud offer Apple the opportunity to create and launch a search engine. There are several signs right now that Apple might be doing just that.

Apple doesn’t need Google’s money

Apple is now the most valuable company in the world. They may want the money Google gives them, but they don’t need it.

Apple invests heavily in research, as shown by their job openings for research engineers. Job postings reveal that they integrate AI, ML, NLP, etc. in all their services and applications.

It’s unclear whether Apple is using Bing more, as the results are labeled only as Siri Suggestions. Clearly Apple has started returning search results in Spotlight Search and is completely bypassing Google.

Apple recently updated its Applebot crawler page

In July 2020, Apple released a major update to its About Applebot Support Page. Additions are very similar to the details that Google provides to webmasters and SEOs. Here are the changes they made to the Applebot support page.

  • Added way to check Applebot traffic
  • In-depth details about the Applebot user agent, including the differences between its desktop and mobile version
  • Extended robots.txt rules
  • Added a section that they not only crawl HTML but also render pages like Google
  • Added a section on search rankings and factors that affect web search result rankings

Applebot has been busy exploring sites

Checking my server connections WP engine revealed that Applebot regularly crawls my sites on a daily basis, which I hadn’t noticed until now.

Applebot server log exploring Coywolf News

What Apple has to gain by launching a search engine

A search engine from Apple will likely look and operate slightly differently from modern search engines like Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. That’s because Apple historically likes to do things differently, and their search engine will serve a different purpose than delivering ads and data mining.

Based on Apple’s many search engineer job descriptions and the continued consolidation of web and app results into Spotlight Search, an Apple search engine will likely function as a highly personalized data hub. It will be similar to Google Assistant on Android, but different because it will (initially) have no ads, be completely private, and have much deeper integrations with the operating system.

One can imagine getting easy user opt-in if they enjoy the privacy, coupled with the seamless integration and customization of their iCloud data. Apple can leverage AI and ML to deliver search results based on their emails, messages, maps, events, reminders, notes, photos, files, contacts, music, news, TV shows and movies, third-party applications, documents, etc. And they can do it ad-free and with the promise of true data privacy.

Apple has a lot to gain from this model. Some of the main benefits include:

  • Promoting apps in search results that will benefit Apple’s services and harm Google’s push towards PWAs.
  • A weakening of Google’s search monopoly and a blow to its ad revenue and data mining.
  • Promoting Apple products and services. Including struggling services like Apple News+ and Apple TV+.
  • Continuous control and lockdown of the Apple ecosystem. Users will become addicted to personalized search results with deep service and product integrations that are only possible through their search engine.
  • Expanding their ad serving platform will allow app developers to promote their apps in search results.

What will this mean for SEO?

If Apple manages to capture a sufficient market share, it will force SEOs to adapt and optimize their search engine. In some ways, at least based on their Applebot documentation, the tactics will remain the same. But SEOs can also expect to test and discover new opportunities not possible with Google or other modern search engines.

At this stage, everything is based on observation and guesswork. They can never publish a search engine. It is also possible that iOS, iPadOS and macOS users are using it without even realizing it. It could be so tightly integrated with the operating system and native apps that Spotlight alerts and searches slowly hijack queries that would otherwise have been made on Google.

Jon Henshaw

Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the IEC and senior reporting writer for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in digital marketing and internet technologies. To follow @henshaw