The Billion-Dollar Question - Will Apple Ever Break Free from Google?

· 4 min read
Google Pays Apple $18B to $20B a Year to Be Default iOS Search Engine / DALL·E 3

Apple Inc. is famously known for keeping its user's privacy as a priority. To enhance users' privacy, discussions about replacing Google as the default search engine in Safari's private mode were held. DuckDuckGo, a privacy-focused search engine, is a prime candidate.

Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO of DuckDuckGo, disclosed that his company engaged in about 20 meetings and phone calls with Apple executives from 2018 to 2019 regarding the possibility of becoming the default search engine for private browsing in Safari.

Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO of DuckDuckGo shared that DuckDuckGo held 20 discussions with Apple about private browsing partnerships/ DuckDuckGo

They want a more private search experience with less tracking tracking. Despite a successful history of integrating DuckDuckGo's privacy technologies into Safari, the talks have yet to materialize into DuckDuckGo becoming the default search engine in this particular mode.

Google's Dominance and the Antitrust Trial

For nearly two decades, Google has maintained its position as the default search engine in Safari, with estimates suggesting that Google pays Apple between $18 billion to $20 billion annually for this privilege. The depth of this kind of extreme financial agreement has come under examination amid the ongoing U.S. government antitrust trial involving Google.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats - Search Engine Market Share

The trial mainly focuses primarily on the Information Services Agreement (ISA) between Apple and Google. This agreement, described as an example of anticompetitive behavior, is worth $18 billion to $20 billion annually, accounting for a significant portion of Apple's operating profits.

Judge Amit Mehta's Random Assignment in US vs Google Antitrust Trial / Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The Justice Department contends that Google's significant financial contributions to Apple and other firms have suppressed competition within the search industry. This results in Google maintaining a commanding 90% hold on this crucial market.

As part of the trial, it was revealed that Apple explored the possibility of adopting Bing, Microsoft's search engine, for Safari. Multiple meetings and discussions occurred, culminating in a 2021 study comparing Bing's search results with Google's.

Microsoft's Satya Nadella Testifies in Google Antitrust Trial / Drew Angerer

The study found that Google consistently outperformed Bing in search results, solidifying Google's dominance in the search domain.

Apple's Search Ambitions and Google's Enigmatic Role

The trial provides insight into Apple's quest to improve search in private browsing modes and its potential consideration of Bing as a replacement for Google.

Notably, the company's latest iPhone software update allows users to choose a search engine other than Google when browsing privately. In this instance, users can opt for Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, or Ecosia.

Users can now select an alternative search engine in Safari's private mode through iPhone's latest software update. Options include Yahoo, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Ecosia.

While Apple's consideration of alternatives to Google demonstrates the tech giant's quest for innovation, it also underscores the complexity of the decision. Concerns about the privacy and the accuracy of search results marred discussions about potentially switching to DuckDuckGo.

Statistic: Market share of leading desktop search engines worldwide from January 2015 to July 2023 | Statista
Market share of leading desktop search engines worldwide from January 2015 to July 2023

Is Apple's 'Pegasus' Search Engine the Next Big Thing?

Bloomberg's Mark Gurman uncovered some interesting tidbits about Apple's search expertise. John Giannandrea, a former Google bigwig, is the mastermind behind it all as the current Apple AI boss.

He's got a giant search team working under him, and over the past few years, they've cooked up something impressive – a next-generation search engine they're calling "Pegasus." It's Apple's internal search engine.

The cool part is that this "Pegasus" isn't just sitting on the shelf; it's powering some of Apple's apps right now. But what's more interesting is that it's continuing beyond there.

John Giannandrea, Apple's AI Head, Unveils "Pegasus" - Apple's Next-Gen Search Engine / GETTY IMAGES

Apple's big plans to put the Pegasus search engine at the heart of its App Store, one of its cash cows. They're not quite going all-in like Google, which indexes the entire web for search results, but they've got some tricks up their sleeve. They're already indexing the internet for Siri and Spotlight, making sure users get what they need pronto.

In the future, Apple might even have a go at building its own Google Search competitor. They've got the right components and expertise stashed away at Apple Park, just in case they decide to enter the ring.

For now, though, Apple's comfortably lounging on the billions of dollars that Google pays them to keep Google Search as the default search engine on Safari. It's all about the green, after all.