Can Apple dethrone Google? The wheels are in motion

Google has enjoyed a long period of dominance. But is their time up? There is one disruptor, and it’s doing things differently.

Let’s be frank (no, not that Frank). Google’s search engine competitors have long struggled to mount a serious challenge to the search behemoth. Yahoo, Bing and newer entrant DuckDuckGo keep trying, but their approaches are often very tactical. ‘Browser bar integration!’ ‘Integrated social results!’ ‘Better privacy!’… The market response? ‘Meh…’.

Ask most users and these fancy features are not enough to make the switch. They don’t outweigh the simplicity of getting the answer they want quickly, conveniently and accurately.

If we need an answer, we ‘Google it’. Think about that for a second. We open a web browser and write a relevant question in a search field. As long as Google continues to deliver the answers we need, then we continue to trust and use it. Every time we have a question or, as Google calls it, a micro-moment in the Zero Moment of Truth, we Google it. We remain loyal to this process because, well, that’s how we search, right?

However, I can feel the winds of change. And it’s borne on Apple devices.

If any brand is going to change an industry dominated by one player it will be Apple. It dethroned IBM. Killed off Nokia. And it’s an ever-growing niggle in Microsoft’s side. Who is the next logical giant to challenge? Of course it’s Google.
Apple & Google

Think different

Apple, unlike others, is taking a much more strategic approach to challenging this particular giant. I don’t believe Apple wants to be known as a search engine. Nor does it want to be an advertising platform. It just knows there’s a better way.

It all starts with Spotlight, Apple’s search facility.

Now, I don’t believe Apple wants you to ‘Spotlight it’. And I think Apple accepts that it can’t change your behaviour of going to Google to perform a search simply by providing an alternative search engine page – no matter how glamorous. But, as Don Draper always says, ‘If you don’t like what’s being said, then change the conversation.’

Through its devices, Apple is fundamentally changing user behaviour. Search is central to the iOS experience. It’s used for everything from opening apps and messages, to finding contacts and directions.

If search is at the centre of Apple’s iOS then you can bet your bottom dollar they don’t want to rely on a third party to provide web results, especially Google. So how are they going to change the way we search?

A new search paradigm

Instead of changing your search engine page of choice, Apple is changing your search behaviour – encouraging you to use your device for all searches, not just web searches.

Here’s how they will do it:

  • Include some web results in Spotlight (Wikipedia and Bing results are included in current iOS)
  • Upgrade Spotlight in iOS 9 to a Google Now type feature set
  • Increase Spotlight’s visibility in IOS 9 to promote usage
  • Promote content in search results surfaced from installed or ‘available to install’ apps, over web based content
  • Keep the user ‘inside’ iOS and away from the web browser by promoting device search and app usage
  • Increase advertiser’s accessibility to iAds, Apple’s mobile advertising platform to monetise a huge increase in impressions

The path to search success

In 2013, Apple acquired personal assistant app ‘Cue’ with the view to expand the search results of Spotlight to include personalised results like appointments, contacts, upcoming flights and so on. Using Cue, they’ve created ‘Proactive’.

Apple has essentially created Google Now for iOS (minus the sharing of private user information). In the late-2014 release of iOS 8, Proactive was introduced with the inclusion of Wikipedia listings in Spotlight search results. Apparently, Google clicks are already on the decline with users navigating directly to the Wikipedia result to quickly find the answer to their question. Sounds valuable, right?

The time spent on search is reduced to any answer being made available at the touch of one button.

The recent launch of iOS 9 takes Proactive to the next level, with an ability to immediately retrieve content from apps that you already have installed on your phone.

Want to call a contact? Search their name and their details will be displayed for you to call them. Want to do a calculation? Do the calculation in search and the answer will be pulled from your calculator app. Want to know what’s going on at The Bombers? Search and the team info will be pulled from your footy app (FootyLive have confirmed this is an upcoming feature).

What will happen when you have that next burning issue? Your next ‘Moment of Truth?’ Will you search from your tried and tested iOS search feature or labour through the process of opening Safari, navigating to Google, performing your search and sifting through results?

The introduction of this search layer is going to be a major disruptor.

So, how do businesses get ahead of this?

From a commercial perspective, the ability to source content (read, ‘answers’) from apps is key as it essentially removes the user’s need to open a web browser. No web browser, no search or display ads – just mobile ads.

Read what you will then from Apple’s 2014 relaunch of iAds, including the reduction of minimum spend from $1m to $50. Combine this with the strategy of keeping users inside iOS and out of the general web, and Apple gains the majority of eyeballs.

Well played Apple, well played.

Opportunities will arise as behaviour adjusts. There is one thing you can do now, however.

From an organic perspective, if you have an app with valuable content like recipes or health tips, then consider ‘deep linking’ to your app to enable the content to be surfaced through Spotlight – even when the app isn’t installed.

Then, keep watching this space. It could well be that the current king may be toppled from the search throne.

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