Apple already has the tools to launch its own search engine, but it probably won't
Google's legal feud with the U.S. Department of Justice has unearthed some interesting information related to search engines. Last week, we saw Apple defend the Mountain View company, calling it the best option available for users.
We also learned that Apple had an opportunity to acquire Bing from Microsoft, but declined the deal. Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has shared some new information that highlights how Apple already has the means to launch its own search engine.
Apple's non-web search capabilities
Though it does not have a search service, Apple has some powerful non-web search tools, i.e. results that are not fetched from the web, but from within an app's catalog. Apple has a functional App Store Ads system in place, and you may have noticed these ads when you search for something on the App Store. Similar ads are also served in Apple News. So the company has a viable advertising group which would support an in-house web search engine if it was launched.
John Giannandrea, Apple's senior vice president of Machine Learning and AI Strategy, oversees the company's search team. It is worth noting that Giannandrea led the Artificial Intelligence team at Google, before moving to Apple. His team been developing a search engine for its apps code-named "Pegasus", and this is the technology that powers search in the company's apps including the Apple Maps, Apple TV, Apple News apps. This search technology is coming to the App store too.
Spotlight, the built-in search tool in iOS, iPadOS and macOS, has been improved over the past couple of years, most notably to include web results in the search panel. And it is quite impressive in terms of accuracy too. Surely, Google is aware of these improvements. Apple's strides towards non-web search enhancements could very well lead to the birth of a new web search rival for Google.
Why Apple may not launch its own search engine
Apple's search relies on its web crawler called, Applebot, which indexes websites for delivering these search results. But the search results and usage in Apple's operating systems differ greatly from what a traditional search engine can offer. For example, most of these search queries may be related to files that a user has on their device. Of course, we have to consider Siri as well, though the digital assistant has become somewhat unreliable over the past few years.
Apple has been investing in AI tech for a few years, and this could be the foundation for building a search engine. The trillion-dollar company isn't lacking resources to build something new. If it can make its own chipsets for iPhones, iPads, Macs, Watches, and of course develop operating systems for said devices, surely it has the means to make a search engine. Apple could have acquired Bing and spun it off as its own service, but the company was not impressed with its quality.
Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Services, has insisted that the company does not see a need to create its own search engine, as Google's service is the best. But there is another reason why they are playing nice. Apple earns about $8 billion a year from its partnership with Google. This is precisely why it defended Google in the court.
The Apple Watch was laughed at by critics, but the company proved them wrong by transforming the wearable into a highly successful product that brings in a steady stream of revenue. An Apple search engine could theoretically have a similar effect, all the company needs to do is redirect its billions of users to it. This will harm Google badly, and Apple in turn will lose the revenue from its agreement. Gurman says a person involved in the deal between the two companies told him that the alignment of the incentives of Apple and Google were crucial to the agreement.
So yes, while Apple has the tools to launch its own search engine, it probably won't do so, at least not anytime soon.