While the rumours of an Apple-owned search engine have been circulating for a decade; the October antitrust allegations against Google might be the final catalyst for Apple’s new venture into search.

The US Antitrust case accuses Google of invading public privacy on the internet and of exploitative monopolistic practices. The multibillion lawsuit has brought many facts to light; for example, Google pays Apple an estimated 8-12 billion annually to be the iPhone’s default search tool.

Apple is in the centre of this case, as Apple devices account for about half of Google’s worldwide search traffic, ultimately, Apple will have to choose to defend or turn against their relationship with Google.

Recent Evidence for an Apple Search Engine

The antitrust case is likely to end the exclusive agreement between Apple and Google, opening up the market for a new default search engine on Apple devices. With significant updates to Apple’s various operating systems, the reveal of an Apple-owned search engine might be launched sooner than later.

With the latest iOS 14 update, the Spotlight Search System was also upgraded, the operating search system not only finds apps on Apple devices but now is connected to the internet and gives online search results. Overall, the standard Google functions have been replaced with Apple-generated search suggestions with links directly to websites. Sounds a bit like a search engine, hey?

Apple’s growing in-house search capability began two and a half years ago, with job postings for search engineers and with the poaching of John Giannandrea, Google’s previous Head of Search. As a result, the artificial intelligence of Apple’s entire technology range has been enhanced and is now seamlessly compatible with Siri, the iPhone’s virtual assistant.

Following this, in July 2020 Applebot – which is Apple’s web crawler – got a significant update, the system now scans and characterises website content to form a ranking of search results. The systems support page on Apple’s website explains how these searches are ranked according to the new algorithm. Multiple developers have also confirmed increased activity from Applebot, as the system is analysing more websites to create a more detailed database of online material.

Apple is one of the few companies that have the resources to be a true rival against Google and will bring refreshing competition into the search industry. Apple has deep roots in tech hardware, a very successful Safari browser, a mass consumer following and a continually increasing profit base, with profits this year predicted to exceed $55 billion. Apple can afford, monetarily and publicly, the long-term investment that is required to bring some real competition to the monopoly Google has created.

Even still, professional digital marketing agencies believe Apple has a challenging path ahead; Google might simply be TOO big. Google’s data is so finely tuned by hundreds of millions of searches every minute from all over the world, in terms of data, there is a lot for Apple to catch up on.

But more commonly, users are complaining about the increases in paid results which decrease the accuracy of their searches; hence society might benefit from a new search engine more than they think.

What are the Benefits of an Apple Search Engine?

The move for Apple into their own search engine is a natural fit, with established control in hardware and software which can gather and learn from user quickly at a large scale.

Apple would itself benefit significantly from the expansion; not only would they have more control over systems on their devices and will eliminate the need for a relationship with Google. But Apple can also promote their products and service in search results, including struggling services like Apple News+ and Apple TV+. It’s clear a search engine is a smart move for Apple, but it would also benefit digital marketing agencies and society at large.

Specifically, the most significant benefit for society, is that an Apple Search Engine would break down the monopoly Google has on the internet and digital advertising. With Google’s business model dominated by paid ads and data mining, Apple would successfully be able to siphon users away from Google if they promote a privacy first search engine, which will be highly concentrated on protecting the customer database. The first version of Apple Search would not need to be perfect; they would just need to be easily accessible and helpful for users and professional marketing agencies.

Apple users consistently choose brand loyalty and convenience over all other considerations. Personalisation of iCloud data has been the most effective selling point for loyal Apple customer, as users can link emails, messages, maps, events, reminders, photos, files, news, movies and third-party apps together. iCloud data is likely to deliver unique search results on an Apple search engine for established Apple users.

For example, when Apple Maps was first realised, users were reluctant to switch from Google Maps, although overtime system updates allowed the algorithms to give more accurate directions and became the default navigation for Apple users.

In addition, Apple’s web browser Safari is the second most popular browser, not just in Australia, but with 1.4 billion devices in use worldwide, this impressive statistic is due to the convenience of the default option.

Hence, with increased privacy, fewer advertisements driving search results and seamless integration of respected Apple hardware and software, one can only imagine that Apple is the only contender to break Google’s monopoly. It is possible that Apple users may already be using a new search engine without being aware of it, it could be so tightly integrated into the operating systems and apps, that Spotlight Searches slowly steal away queries made on Google.

Improving Speech-Based Searches

It has also been suggested, that the recent evidence is not a sign of Apple preparing for a search engine launch or to reduce reliance on Google, but it is a sign of Apple’s efforts to improve AI search results.

The recent investments on search algorithms like Applebot and Spotlight are to improve the efficiency of speech-based searches with Siri. Not only enhancing speech-to-text results for iPhones but possibly developing Apple’s loT home device HomePod to remain competitive with other virtual assistants, like Ok Google and Amazon’s Alexa.

After all, one of the most prominent digital marketing trends in 2020 was to optimise for voice search, as voice search is increasingly becoming more popular than the traditional text search. As a result, digital marketers now more commonly target language used in questions such as what, how, when and so on. Similarly, targeting ‘where to buy’ and ‘near me’ keywords, as mobile queries have grown by over 200% in the past two years.

What Will This Mean for SEO and Professional Marketers?

On the surface level, the benefits of an Apple Search Engine are enormous, specifically when looking at the individual level and the Apple empire. However, for digital marketing agencies, a new Apple browser could be the biggest shakeup to search engine marketing in history.

Obviously, the shakeup would pose many challenges for digital marketing agencies. Unlike Google, who supplies vast insights into user data, allowing professional digital marketers to track popular search terms and factors, such as using user location to boost relevant geographical results. Users are catching onto the fact that such media conglomerates are invading privacy and selling their data, so Apple is likely to be less data and ad-driven, by enforcing stringent privacy measures.

The tracking capacity and data use of users will be limited on an Apple-owned search engine. Therefore, digital marketing agencies would have to find other avenues for user-data – including first-party tracking and closer partnerships with publishers – to target specific audiences for advertisements and capitalise on Apple’s massive user base.

Although it has been predicted that Apple would not overhaul Google overnight, so there is plenty of time to prepare for dramatic changes. What is sure, is there will be massive opportunities for early adopters to gain additional avenue, through Pay-Per-click Advertising (PPC) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) efforts.

Still, successful decisions are hard to predict as there are no guaranteed strategies which will work, it will be challenging to know where to delicate advertising funds to maximise digital marketing tactics. But the new avenue will allow new opportunities in digital marketing, that has never been possible on Google or other modern search engines before.

At this point, the industry only has theories based on hearsay and conjecture; an Apple search engine may never be realised, more importantly, the takeaway from this article is to be informed on a possible shakeup and be prepared.