Apple logo on a building in Chengdu, Sichuan, China - Unsplash
  A Search Engine by Apple?

Excerpt from Moz

Tom digs into his research on Apple’s moves in search, specifically their recent launch of what he believes is a search engine, how it works, and how they could possibly hope to compete with Google in the future.

“Apple won’t be building a search engine”

But before we get into what does that look like, let’s start off by talking about the common reasons people say, “Apple won’t be building a search engine.” The first is that we know that Google pay Apple something in the order of $18 billion to $20 billion dollars a year to be the default search engine on Apple devices. That’s a lot of cash.

But if you consider Apple makes more than a billion dollars a day, probably not such a big idea as we think it is. But more importantly, in 2020, the Department of Justice in the U.S. said that they were going to be suing Google for monopoly practices. One of the four bullet points they listed as their reasons was that they don’t want Apple being paid by Google to be the default search engine. They believe that’s a monopoly practice.

They want it to stop. So even if Apple do care about the cash, it might be going away anyway. So then it was not necessarily a surprise, in 2018, we saw the head of search at Google leave and go to Apple. Apple hired the head of search. That’s a very suspicious thing to do if you’re not building a search engine. We also saw at the same time they started listing job listings for hundreds and hundreds of search engineers, which all adds up to building something search related.

Apple has  launched a search engine

So rumors circulated, oh, Apple are going to build a search engine. It flew under the radar a little bit, but Apple already launched a web search engine. In iOS 14, we’re on iOS 16 now, iOS 14 launched September 2020, Apple made a change where if you do a search in the iOS default search screen, the Siri suggested websites used to be powered by Google’s web index, iOS 14 changed it to Apple’s own web index.

They’ve already got a web index, and they’ve got a page on their website where they tell us about that web index. On that page, they describe how their Applebot works. They’ve got a web crawler that for the last three years or so can already render JavaScript, something that took Google 20 years or so before they had that. So they’ve got a mature crawler. On that page, they also outline their search ranking factors, their top five search ranking factors they have.

It’s things like links, web page design characteristics, which sounds like Core Web Vitals and PageRank. So the search ranking factors look very similar to Google. They’ve got a crawler very similar to Google. On their page, they talk about how if you’ve got no Applebot specific rules in your robots.txt file, they’ll follow Googlebot rules. So you can see the direction of travel.

They’re trying to crawl the web in a similar shape to Google. But I think that’s a distraction. I think there are several things that they could do differently if they wanted to build a bigger search engine, and we’re going to talk about the three differences I think they could have that would allow them to build a search engine in a very novel way that would compete with Google in a way that we haven’t necessarily fully understood.

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