Apple Is Siri-ous About Search

Nearly one year ago, in the wake of the Bing launch, fellow Search Insider Gord Hotchkiss declared, "Search needs an iPhone." Responding to Bing's decision-engine positioning, Gord wrote, "What if Microsoft is right (as I suspect they are), and search is broken? What if we could have a significantly better search experience? What would it take to deliver that? It requires scrapping all preconceived notions and starting over. It requires an approach like the iPhone."


Gord and I agreed that Bing, while a significant step forward for Microsoft, is not a game-changer from a user-experience standpoint and more innovation is/was needed. Gord's column continued:

"The iPhone isn't a mobile phone, it's a mobile Web and computing device. The phone is secondary. The iPhone is in the middle of changing the way we interact with online. We squeeze, spread, stroke, tap and shake. The iPhone also opened up an ecosystem of functionality. The App Store is the true genius of the iPhone: little bits of integrated functionality, making our lives more fun, more productive and more connected. Apple never intended to catch up. It intended to vault over the competition, changing the rules and opening a new marketplace. Apple strategists had nothing short of revolution on their minds."



Two recent events make it pretty clear that Apple feels the same way about search as it does/did about the phone.

The Revolution Will Be Searchable

On April 8, Apple unveiled the iAd platform as part of its iPhone OS 4 Preview. Here's how it was positioned in the press release...

"iAd, Apple's new mobile advertising platform, combines the emotion of TV ads with the interactivity of web ads. Today, when users click on mobile ads they are almost always taken out of their app to a web browser, which loads the advertiser's webpage. Users must then navigate back to their app, and it is often difficult or impossible to return to exactly where they left. iAd solves this problem by displaying full-screen video and interactive ad content without ever leaving the app, and letting users return to their app anytime they choose."

Clearly, this was a direct shot at AdMob, a mobile advertising company that Google announced it was acquiring in November of last year, though it has yet to get regulatory approval for the deal. (Mind you, Apple also bid on AdMob and ended up settling for Quattro Wireless instead.) As discussed in my recent blog post about Google and gaming, the AdMob experience can be frustrating to users (ads covering content), advertisers (performance skewed by accidental clicks) and developers (low payouts and user abandonment).

Perhaps more telling than the pretty PR prose describing iAd, was the color commentary from Steve Jobs during the announcement. Per the New York Times, he said, "Search is not where it's at... People are not searching on a mobile device like they are on the desktop."

No doubt, this was a direct shot at Google. However, it wasn't until this past week that it became clear that Apple truly intended to revolutionize search.

At Your Siri-vice

Last Wednesday, news broke that Apple was buying Siri, a "virtual personal assistant" that has become a muse of sorts for the Search Insiders. First, Derek Gordon profiled Siri in a mid-March column before putting it into context in the emerging era of APIs. Meanwhile, Gord picked up the thread and suggested that Siri could raise our online "set point" and ultimately break people of the Google habit.

Then, following an introduction from Derek, I interviewed Siri CEO, Dag Kittlaus, for my book, "Everything I Know about Marketing I Learned from Google."

The timing of my interview was fortuitous, as I was working on the final chapter titled, "Future-Proofing." Speculating on what the landscape looks like ten years from now and Google's role within it, I begin the chapter with a quote from Eric Schmidt circa 2002 as recorded by Brian Morrissey, who is the current AdWeek Digital Editor but was writing for at the time. Here's the quip from Schmidt...

"The mistake we always make is we assume the success in the next 10 years will be the same as the success in the last 10 years. The dominant players always get it wrong."

Could Google have gotten it wrong? The company certainly understands the potential of mobile. In fact, Schmidt recently said the approach at Google is "mobile first." And he has frequentlyacknowledged that the potential for the mobile Web far outpaces the computer. But was/is AdMob the wrong way to crack the mobile nut? AdMob reeks of 10 years ago. Let's just throw some banner ads in apps. Heck, it works on the PC.

Siri isn't an ad platform. And it's not a search engine. It's not even a decision engine. It's a search-and-act engine or, as Gord likes to call it, an app-ssistant. It doesn't intent to compete with AdMob or Google. Siri (and, now, Apple), to steal a line from Gord's "iPhone of search" column, intends to vault over the competition, changing the rules and opening a new marketplace.

How? Quite simply by allowing you to skip all those pesky search queries and instead give instructions: "Buy tickets to a romantic comedy at a theater near me. Book a reservation at an Italian restaurant afterwards. And call a taxi for me to get there ten minutes prior."

Based on intimate knowledge that, as John Battelle underscored in an interview with Gord, users will be happy to share because they "see value from it" and "know that we're in a trusted relationship," Siri will get better and better over time. I can't imagine anyone readily giving AdMob that information for the "value" of getting better interruptive ads.

So what can marketers do to best prepare themselves for a world of app-ssistants? Alas, for that insight, you'll have to buy my book but, in my next column, I'll share excerpts from my interview with Siri CEO Dag Kittlaus and speculate a bit more on what Apple might do with the company.

5 comments about "Apple Is Siri-ous About Search".
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  1. Dan Roberts from Hearst Digital Media, May 5, 2010 at 11:38 a.m.

    Siri isn't quite a revolution in search, but its a solid step in the right direction, which involves re-imagining how we interact with the results set. The game is no longer about relevance, its about efficiency.

  2. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, May 5, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.

    Wow. A concise, well-spoken observation on the gameboard of Search. Can't wait for your book, Aaron.

  3. Kris Olszewski from Independent, May 5, 2010 at 1:24 p.m.

    Exactly.....the smartphone is the laptop of "every man" maintaining visibility with the consummer means to secure the right connections with the right apps....don't send me a coupon to my email that I have to print to use or extract some code from...don't make me have to search for your movie theater because you didn't sign an agreement with my app and please have my pizza ready when I stop by on my way home.

  4. Ross Bradley from Qeg Pty Ltd, May 5, 2010 at 2:12 p.m.

    Nice article. I see Apple using the Looksmart AdCenter platform myself.

  5. Todd Tilley from Wrecking Ball Media, May 5, 2010 at 8:45 p.m.

    Excellent insights into new direction for search. I just downloaded the app and it works really well. The interaction feels way better than the search bar too.

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