Apple controls the default browser on iOS, so expanding into search might seem like a natural fit for the company founded by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne -- but it’s not as simple as developing a new engine.
A change Apple made to the latest version of the iPhone operating system -- iOS 14 -- has begun to show its own search results and link directly to websites when a user types queries from its home screen -- meaning that Apple's technology likely has begun to supersede results from queries on Google.
“That web search capability marks an important advance in Apple's in-house development and could form the foundation of a fuller attack on Google,” writes the Financial Times, citing several people in the industry.
Bill Coughran, Google's former engineering chief and a partner at Silicon Valley investor Sequoia Capital, told FT that iOS 14 can operate some searches without using Google.
While FT links the move to the U.S. antitrust lawsuit, Apple has been working for years to build intuitive technology into its operating system, not a stand-alone search engine -- supported by artificial intelligence.
Siri gave Apple its voice, but the company has acquired more AI startups than any other technology company -- about 20 since its purchase of the voice assistant in 2010. These include purchases like Novauris Technologies and Voysis to improve speech recognition, as well as Perceptio and RealFace to develop its Apple ID technology, according to CB Insights.
Apple’s focus on search resides in the operating system, where queries rely on context, location and preferences, as long as users provide permission. It's about the articles read on the iPhone via iOS and not as much about words typed or spoken into a search engine.
When John Giannandrea, who formerly served as Google head of search, left Google and joined Apple in 2018, he brought his expertise in AI and machine learning.
Any AI- and ML-based search capability Apple is developing is likely tied to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) initiative, a random device identifier assigned by Apple to a user's device to help target content and ads.
Type in “search” into Apple's job listings and you will find 157 related job openings, but most require artificial intelligence and machine learning or software and services experience. Many are related to making Siri a better virtual assistant.
Apple has a search engine, voice and text. Siri's universal search engine powers search across products like Siri, Spotlight, Safari, Messages, and Lookup.
The FT report suggests Apple will build one to rival Google. If that's true, we are still a long way off.