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Apple Search and Google: a false comparison

Insights / Opinion – SEO

A persistent rumour has been around since 2014: Apple is developing its own search engine. Mounting evidence indicates it’s true, but the purpose isn’t necessarily what most people think.

When it comes to natural search, only one engine is “top of mind”, with a global market share of 92%. Depending on the country, Google dominates, leaving only small shares to direct competitors (Microsoft’s Bing), rivalling others (Yandex in Russia) or, rarely, not competing at all (China’s national Baidu and Sogou). Unless a search engine offers a niche service, it’s pointless to try to compete head-on with Google. Yet this year, we’ve seen articles everywhere affirming that “Apple is developing its own search engine to compete with Google”. So, what’s the real story?

 

The Apple ecosystem depended on Google

Apple’s computer (Mac OS) and smartphone/tablet (iOS & iPadOS) environments offer search functionalities via Siri and Spotlight. These tools serve more as an internal search engine (searching for files or applications), rather than a web search engine, although they offer “Web sites suggested by Siri” in all their results.

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Search results on Spotlight © Capture

 

 

Apple’s web results have been powered by Google for years (or by Bing some years), thanks to a commercial agreement granting Google exclusivity. This agreement is now threatened as US courts take action against Google for abuse of its dominant position. It’s therefore logical for Apple to anticipate providing an equivalent service to its users.

Let’s go to the source of the information for clarification: Apple’s support page, “About Applebot“, provides several responses.

Apple already has an indexing robot: Applebot

For at least five years, Apple has had a web page indexing robot; support documents have confirmed several elements indicating the existence of a complete search engine named Apple Search:

  • A crawler (crawling robot) to scour website pages
  • Display of page content as an Internet user
  •  Index construction (implied by respect of meta robots tag indexing instructions)
  •  Positioning factors:
    • User engagement with regard to search results
    • Relevance of pages to requests
    •  Number and quality of links from other web pages
    • Personalisation by user location
    • Design features of web pages
  • And an official name: Apple Search

All of these elements clearly refer to a search engine. But designed to address the entire market and compete head-on with existing players? Not at all: In its documentation, Apple specifies that “Applebot is used by products such as Siri suggestions and Spotlight suggestions”; they make no reference to the subject of a search engine.

 

Will SEO be important for Apple Search?

In general, all search engines have similar functions and purposes: Offer the best web results in response to users’ requests. When they do exist, differences are minimal and any site optimised for Google is 95% optimised for other engines. In the event that Apple Search ever becomes an autonomous engine, the same will hold true.

For now, Apple Search is more of a “behind-the-scenes” technology for the Apple ecosystem’s tools, rather than a search engine. For example, it doesn’t offer real results pages with classified web pages for a query. In short, Apple Search isn’t a competitor for Google, whose future is still bright thanks to its 20 years of evolution, relevance of results, and dominant market share.