When Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) scored a deal with Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) to make its Bing search engine the default provider for Siri way back in 2013 with iOS 7, it was a pretty big deal. It was validation for Microsoft's beleaguered search engine, at a time when Microsoft was desperately hoping to turn Bing into a verb. A year later, Apple would integrate Bing search results directly into Spotlight, the search function in macOS.
Those were both blows to Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) (NASDAQ: GOOGL) subsidiary Google, although fairly minor in the grand scheme of things since Siri and Spotlight searches probably aren't used as much as the far more important spot of being the default search in Safari (a privilege that Google pays handsomely for). With iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra released this month, Apple is ditching Bing and cozying back up to Google.
The vast majority of people prefer Google
TechCrunch first reported the change. Siri and Spotlight will now use Google for web searches, although Bing will still power image searches. In a statement to the outlet, Apple said it was in pursuit of consistency: "Switching to Google as the web search provider for Siri, Search within iOS and Spotlight on Mac will allow these services to have a consistent web search experience with the default in Safari. We have strong relationships with Google and Microsoft and remain committed to delivering the best user experience possible."
There isn't much data publicly available regarding how often people actually use Siri search or Spotlight on Mac for web searches, but it's safe to say that it's very low compared to typing a query into Safari. Microsoft also provided a mildly defensive statement, adding: "Bing has grown every year since its launch, now powering over a third of all the PC search volume in the U.S., and continues to grow worldwide." That may be true, but Bing is still far behind Google in global desktop search market share, and things look even worse on the mobile front, according to NetMarketShare.
These figures don't include partner search engines that are powered by Bing, but even adding those doesn't tip the scales all that much. Bing image search has long been pretty competitive with Google image search, so keeping Bing for those searches makes some sense, but it's possible (and maybe probable) that using Bing for regular web searches in Siri and Spotlight was off-putting for some users that prefer Google. Unlike Safari, the search provider for Siri and Spotlight cannot be changed. To the extent that Bing was discouraging using Siri or Spotlight for search, switching to Google could even improve usage of those services.
Switching for the sake of consistency is a good thing, especially since it's clear that the vast majority of users prefer Google. Apple may collect an estimated $3 billion from Google this year for enjoying the default search spot in Safari in the form of traffic acquisition costs. Google is presumably paying Apple for the Siri and Spotlight placements as well, but likely much less (commensurate with usage). The financial impacts to both companies will be negligible, but users will probably appreciate the change.
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