Apple is taking Google down, one iOS at a time

By: Marawan Alwaraki, June 29, 2016
According to The New York Times, it is estimated that 75% of the $11.8 billion Google made from mobile search ads came from iOS users. That's a huge chunk of Google's revenue coming directly from phones with an Apple logo at the back.

Since iOS and Android are two direct competitors that never got along too well, Apple won't just let Google make that much money from its own devices. You may recall Steve Jobs saying:
"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product. I'm willing to go thermonuclear war on this."
Let's take a look at how Apple is trying to eliminate Google search from iOS.

iOS 4 - Google isn't the only choice anymore


Apple allows users to change the default search engine in Safari from Google to Yahoo! The Google label in Safari was also replaced with a more generic Search label.

iOS 4 vs OS 3 [Source: Gizmodo]

iOS 5 - Use Siri instead


Apple took its first jab at Google with Siri on iOS 5. Siri let iPhone users find information online without ever having to use Google. It also searched Bing by default, and till now this is not an option that can be changed.




iOS 6 - Goodbye Google Maps and YouTube


Up until iOS 5, all iPhones shipped with two Google apps: Google Maps and YouTube. That was no longer the case with iOS 6. Apple released it's own maps app to combat Google's, although it failed so bad during launch that Tim Cook apologized to customers.

There's no point fighting Google search when you've got two Google apps shipping with every iPhone.

Throwback

iOS 7 - More accessible spotlight search


In iOS 7, Apple moved spotlight search from the left-most page to a simple swipe down on any page on the home screen. The aim is to make people search using spotlight more frequently. While this didn't exactly eliminate the need to use Google, it paved the way to a Google-less future.

iOS 8 - Smarter spotlight results


With iOS 8, spotlight search on iPhone could return results from Wikipedia and Bing. Users would see relevant links instantly making it easier to use than opening safari and searching there.

Wikipedia results directly in spotlight [Source: Apple]


iOS 9 - The strongest jab


Apple took spotlight search even further with iOS 9. It opened up spotlight search to third party developers so that now it wasn't just Bing and Wikipedia returning results, but any app on the App Store had the ability to do so. Instead of opening Safari and searching for Finding Nemo in the address bar, users just swipe down on the home screen and search directly in spotlight search. Users will then see a result from IMDB, eliminating the need to use Google.

Additionally, spotlight was added back once again on the far left page, while also living above every page on the home screen. The idea is to add the search bar everywhere to get users out of the habit of using Safari (and Google) to using spotlight search instead.

iOS 9 also allows developers to release ad-blockers for Safari which I'm sure had an impact on Google's mobile search revenue.

Apple also tackled Google directly in the search bar by providing links to suggested website right from the address bar.


iOS 10 - Spotlight. Every. Where.


The add-a-spotlight-search-everywhere strategy was taken even further with iOS 10. Keep in mind that iOS 10 is still in beta so this is subject to change.

In iOS 10, the spotlight search bar is now in the notification center too, so it's always a swipe away even when you're inside other apps. Additionally, if you let go of the notification center when only the search bar is showing, it'll immediately open the keyboard to search. So technically, no matter what you're doing on your iPhone, the spotlight search bar is always literally one swipe away.

This strategy might work. A smart search bar that's easily accessible may be what it takes to cut down on Google searches from iPhones, which in turn will cut down significantly on Google's revenue.

Spotlight.. Spotlight everywhere!

Google isn't sitting quietly


Google won't just let Apple attack its revenue and do nothing about it.

Let's face it, App Store search sucks. Searching for "messenger" shows Messenger by Facebook as the top result. However, a small typo "meszenger" will push Messenger so far down the list that no one will scroll that far (I got through 40 apps and it wasn't there yet).  Google on the other hand has much better search. Compare the two screenshots below.

App Store search sucks, and Google is the better alternative

Google search is also superior to spotlight search and Siri in many other aspects. From finding theaters to returning instant results, Google's search is still far better than anything offered by Apple that users find themselves constantly using the Google search bar in Safari. Furthermore, a lot of iPhone users have the Google search app on their phones and use them instead.

Speaking of apps, Google is taking huge advantage of the App Store. You don't need to own an Android phone to use Google's ecosystem. Google makes a lot of free apps that tend to be the best of their kind: GBoard, Google Photos, Google office apps, and a bunch more.

While Apple is trying to eliminate Google from iOS, it's also opening up to developers. Google is taking advantage of iOS opening up to keep iPhone users in its ecosystem and continue making money of them despite Apple's efforts.

Who will win?


It's hard to predict the outcome of this silent battle between two of the largest tech companies in the world. Sure, Apple is trying to get us to stop using Google search, but as long as Google remains far ahead of Apple in terms of search then people will keep using it. Also with the large variety of good Google apps on the App Store, it's hard to see iPhone users completely ditch Google's ecosystem.

Having said that, Apple's efforts are certainly not to be disregarded. I personally find myself using spotlight search as a quicker and more accessible option whenever possible. I'm sure that all of the changes above did hurt Google to a certain extent, however I'm not sure how hard each blow actually was, and I'm not sure if there'll ever be a K.O.

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