Munster points to Google's increased investments in several key categories, such as mobile, as a possible threat to Apple. Expect Apple to continue using Google as the default search provider on its mobile devices, but Munster puts the odd of Apple switching from Google to Bing in 2011 at 25%.
"Apple's mobile data is too valuable to give to a competitor such as Google..." Munster writes. "Google will always have a presence on the iPhone, whether through its mobile search portal, YouTube, or other apps."
But designing a long-term search strategy doesn't necessarily mean building or acquiring a search engine. A search deal between Apple and Google might look a lot like Microsoft's agreement with Yahoo, where Bing powers the backend search results and Yahoo remains in control of the design and experience of what and how people view queries on the search engine.
Global Equities analyst Trip Chowdhry agrees. He expects that when his iPad arrives in the mail on Saturday, Microsoft Bing will likely be the default search engine. The default search engine on the iPhone is Google. "We are hearing that to get favorable placement on Apple's iPad, Microsoft may have paid more than $150 million," he says.
I ordered the iPad 3G version, which provides a pay-as-you-go cellular service through AT&T, so mine won't arrive until later this month. Not that search deals are made in trendy coffee shops, but Apple and Google's CEOs were spotted sipping joe together last weekend in Silicon Valley.
Perhaps Apple could brand the search engine iSearch, suggests search engine marketer and social media junkie Mike Wilton.
360i Senior Director of Emerging Media and Innovation David Berkowitz doesn't know why Apple would need a search strategy. Calling the Cupertino, Calif. firm a great technology and design company, he wonders if Apple needs to be more. "They'll likely be far better off partnering with an existing engine than entering a space that has had only one new entrant, such as Microsoft, gain substantial market share in the past five years," he says.
Similar to Berkowitz, Munster thinks Apple's strengths reside in hardware and software, not the Internet. This means Apple might need help as it extends offers into mobile cloud computing.
Fueling my point, Munster writes that Apple's MobileMe cloud-based email and storage service has historically been very challenging. So for maps and search the company has thus far relied on Google for its products.
"The smartest thing for Apple to do is partner with Bing for search results and search ads," says David Szetela, chief executive at Clix Marketing. "It wouldn't be the first time Apple and Microsoft have teamed up, and it could provide the perfect counterpoint to the big GOOG."
Apple needs Google for its Maps application, which comes pre-installed on every iPhone; the default Google search in the Safari mobile browser; and YouTube, another pre-installed application, according to Munster.
Why does Google need Apple? Well, Munster points to stats from eMarketers that suggest the iPhone made up 53% of the U.S. mobile browser share in 2009.
Yes, Android applications continue to grow. Munster notes that Apple's 53% mobile browser share was down from 60% at year-end 2008; over that same time period, Android gained share from 5% to 11%.
Apple likely will partner with one search engine to build that long-term strategy Munster suggests. The question remains which one.