CAMBRIDGE, England: The small corner of the internet is on fire with news that Apple has significantly increased its search robot activity.
Search engine crawlers typically crawl sites to rank and index them in search engine results. When you search for something on a search engine, the results that appear are sorted by “ranking,” meaning that the result that is most relevant to what you’re looking for appears at the top.
This increase in activity is also reflected in the pressure of the British Competition Commission to terminate Apple’s multibillion-dollar deal with Google.
The deal ensures that Google is the default search engine for Apple iOS devices. Many now anticipate that Apple is on its way to launching its search engine soon.
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Apple’s entry into the search engine market comes 11 years after Microsoft’s Bing debut, Google’s only notable competitor to date.
Despite what the Microsoft PR team claims, Bing is by no means a success story, and it continues to fade compared to Google’s ubiquitous search platform’s economic performance and market power.
In fact, every academic year, my colleague, Dr. Kamal Munir and I at the Cambridge MBA teach the Bing case as a warning story of what happens when you choose to move to entrenched platforms.
Unlike Microsoft Bing, Apple’s starting gambit is quite different and will probably give better results.
RESET OF UNDERTAKINGS
One of the biggest mistakes Microsoft made when launching Bing was to follow the same ad-based business model used by Google. In this business model, search users enter what they are looking for, and based on that, the search engine also displays relevant ads that may be of interest to them.
For such a business to be profitable, you need a very large number of users, as well as a large number of advertisers who want to sell them, alongside the millions of sites crawled by the search robots mentioned above.
All three are needed to show the user useful search results and attract the right customer to the advertiser.
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In the meantime, Google pays you to match the right ads to the right users. The more you search, the more useful the results.
The more useful the results, the better the targeting of your ad. Bing struggled to begin this virtuous cycle, and never really reached the scale Google likes with its search offerings.
Apple’s search engine will have a different future if rumors about its business model are true. Recently, it has focused heavily on user privacy, including but not limited to publicly refusing to grant the FBI covert access to its devices.
It will be very much in line with this “privacy first” position that Apple chooses not to make money from advertising that involves disclosing customer usage data to third parties.
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Instead, it could simply sell more of its highly profitable devices and subscriptions to privacy-conscious customers. Without following in Google’s footsteps, Apple doesn’t have to work with the search giant on its terms.
BETTER PRODUCT ERROR
When Bing was launched, it had features that Google didn’t have at the time. This included a “front flight preview” of search results, as well as specialization in travel, shopping, local businesses and health searches.
As for the quality of search results, Microsoft claimed that Google is similar or better. Despite the apparent superiority of the products, Bing has never won search engine wars.
This aspect of search engine history is in favor of Apple, which does not have to differentiate itself from Google. In fact, Apple’s search results need to be “good enough” for users to accept them en masse.
We can see this with the results of Apple maps, which were released in 2012. Despite a publicly rocky launch due to poor geographic coverage, Apple’s card’s dominant market share for UK iPhone users reached 60 per cent in just a little more launch year.
The same goes for Apple Music, which has become the second-largest music streaming player despite Spotify’s nine-year leadership.
DISTRACTIVE SIDE EFFECTS
With its latest iOS 14 update, Apple has already begun exchanging Google search results for its own benefit. Most iOS users have noticed the change for almost all of the above reasons.
But this silent swap does not happen without its challenges. By defaulting its search engine on devices instead of Google, Apple will open up competition commission criticisms of monopolies in various markets.
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Most likely, it will also upset the advertising industry, which could lose reach to Apple customers. Apple’s customer base is coveted due to better-than-average purchasing power, and by making it easier for users to avoid search ads, Apple could simply bring about a tectonic change in the advertising industry as a whole.
Google’s dominance in Internet search will not end with Apple’s entry into the market, but it would certainly weaken it given the growing privilege of consumers.
Given that Google’s business model is vastly different from Apple, it is likely that the search giant would have to learn to live uncomfortably with a competitor’s search engine rather than turn to compete with it.
Hamza Mudasir is a guest guest at Strategy at the Cambridge School of Judicial Business. This comment first appeared in the conversation.