Apple search would be Google's 'get out of jail free' card

Android figures
(Image credit: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central)

Rumor has it that Apple is going to debut its own search engine "sooner rather than later." This is good news for consumers as competition between Apple and Google means more resources would be spent to do search even better, but oddly enough it's also good news for Google on one front — the battle with regulators.

Apple is definitely refining some search products and we know it is because of the companies it has acquired since 2013. Technology from Topsy Labs already powers specific queries through Siri or Apple's Spotlight search on the Mac, and Laserlike uses AI to crawl the web and build a database. It would make perfect sense for Apple to build its own search engine.

The obvious drawback is losing the cash Google pays for using Google Search as the default on every iPhone and iPad. That's said to be between 8 billion and 12 billion dollars which is a huge amount to lose overnight. I'm going to assume Apple is willing and ready to lose that money if it decides to build Apple Search.

A less obvious result is that Google finally has one category where it doesn't have an "almost" monopoly in the eyes of regulators: search. And that's a big deal.

Google is everywhere

A Monopoly board on the Galaxy Z Fold 4

(Image credit: Nick Sutrich)

If you live in North America you probably don't realize the huge advantage Google has when it comes to connected devices and the software that powers them. Worldwide Google owns about 80% of the mobile device market, unlike North America where it's about 50%. The thing is that Google's software is also on devices not using Android through products like Gmail, Google Photos, Maps, and Search.

Regulators know this and whenever they are doing their jobs and looking out for the consumer instead of big business interests, this comes up. It means Google is under extra scrutiny and is often forced to make changes that governments say are in the best interests of us all. 

This is a great thing when it happens the right way for the right reasons. It's why Google gives us more control over location data reporting or opting out of targeted advertisements. It's also why Google has to play nice with other advertisers, especially when it comes to search results.

The inverse also applies. Whenever anyone starts talking about Google's monopoly, people think about Apple's strict rules and heavy hand when it comes to the iPhone and iPad. It's Apple's way or the highway, and lawmakers never seem to care.

This is because Apple doesn't have the huge market share advantage that Google has — it can get away with a lot more nonsense and unfriendly policies because there is an obvious alternative choice for everyone who hates it. And it works for the most part — there are a lot of things I really like about the iPhone but I won't use one because I don't like several of Apple's rules about how I can use it. So I use an Android phone that lets me break fix anything I wanna break fix.

Google logo on iPad

(Image credit: Future)

 One place where Google actually has a monopoly is in mobile search. Google Search is the default on every Android phone, every iPhone, and every tablet. You can change that default but most people don't so I'd estimate Google has about 90% of the market when it comes to mobile search. Regulators don't like this and are slowly working to make it more apparent that there are alternatives and include an easy way to swap to one of them. Google has no defense when someone says it has a real monopoly in mobile search.

One thing that would happen when you switch 1.5 billion mobile devices over to Apple Search is that Google can now point a finger and say "look at all this competition!" anytime it faces a bunch of lawmakers about unfair search practices. This is especially true in the U.S. and Canada where half of us use an iPhone.

Google probably hates the idea anyway but the folks in charge are also confident that it won't make much of a difference. Like Maps, no matter how good Apple's initial product will be, Google's will be better because it's been around so much longer. And like Maps again, users will turn back to Google when it comes to searching by changing the default for Safari.

In the long term, this is bad news for Google if Apple is serious enough to spend the money and put in the effort. Apple Search will get good enough for most people and Google loses billions of customers. We're seeing that play out with Maps right now.

I want Apple to build a search engine to make Google work harder. I hope it brings big changes in advertisements and privacy while providing good, relevant results. But in the meantime, it would let Google get away with just a little more because it's no longer the only player in town.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.