Suganthan Mohanadasan, a digital marketing consultant, said Applebot has shown up “a ridiculous number of times” on his clients’ websites in recent weeks. “When the crawl rate increases, that tells us they are trying to gather more information.”
Most significantly, iOS 14 nudged aside Google for certain search functions. Queries made in the search window accessed by swiping right from the iPhone’s home screen—which Apple calls the “Today View”—show an Apple-generated list of search suggestions rather than Google results. These results include “autocomplete”-style suggestions generated by Apple, showing that it is learning from its 1 billion users’ most common queries.
Apple declined to comment.
Building a true rival to Google’s search engine could take years. But with profits this year predicted to exceed $55 billion and $81 billion of net cash reserves at the last count, Apple can afford to make long-term investments.
Apple has historically tried to own and control the most important components of its products, from the custom chips that power everything from the iPhone to its AirPods and Watch accessories, to the tight integration between its software and hardware.
Yet Apple has stuck with Google as the iPhone’s default search engine for more than a decade.
Now, however, Apple has a growing incentive to change that, as regulators force it to choose between defending its relationship with Google or turning against its longstanding partner in search.
The US DoJ has put Google’s estimated $8 billion-12 billion annual payments to be the iPhone’s default search engine at the centre of its antitrust case against the internet group.
Sharis Pozen, co-head of the global antitrust practice at law firm Clifford Chance and a former acting assistant attorney-general at the DoJ, said the case “opens up another front for Apple” alongside legal fights with Epic Games and others over its role as App Store gatekeeper. “Apple will be central here,” she said, adding that it must “walk a fine line” in explaining why it took billions of dollars from Google.
The DoJ could demand an end to the exclusive agreement, she said, allowing others equal access to the iPhone’s search defaults.
Apple has stumbled in creating a rival to Google before. When Apple Maps first launched in 2012, it was so prone to errors that Scott Forstall, one of the company’s top lieutenants to late co-founder Steve Jobs, was forced to resign.