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Google This: Yahoo Wants Apple's Search Business

Google This: Yahoo Wants Apple's Search Business

Do Marissa Mayer's Apple-ish search ambitions worry Google? If Google suddenly loses millions of mobile searches, it loses data. And since Google is all about turning user data into revenue, a major river of information would -- at the simple implementation of an iOS update -- vanish. Tell me more than a few executives at Google aren't taking an extra pair of shorts to work this week.

By Chris Maxcer
04/18/14 11:53 AM PT

Google has dominated the world of search for years, so much so that "Google" is not only synonymous with searching -- it's a verb, too. Who hasn't told someone to google something? That's awesome mindshare, and its power is translated to billions of dollars of ad-related revenue for Google. Where will search grow in the future?

Mobile.

And rumor has it, Yahoo's CEO Marissa Mayer wants it. More to the point, according to Re/code, Mayer wants Apple's mobile search business. Badly.

Right now, Apple's iPhones and iPads are set to use Google as their default search engine with Apple's Safari browser. While end users can manually switch this setting to Yahoo or Microsoft's Bing, most don't. Why? For starters, Google's search is effective. It's familiar. It's fast and functional. Even if you don't like Google's business model, it's hard not to turn to Google to find stuff. Google is doing its job -- and doing it well.

Foot in the Door - or Ax Breaking It Down?

If Mayer could convince Apple to ditch Google as its default mobile search engine in favor of Yahoo, it could become a major catalyst to a serious turnaround at Yahoo. You could say it would be akin to jamming Mayer's foot in the search door, but I'm more inclined to see her holding a double-bladed ax and chopping through it.

Computing usage is skewing heavily toward mobile. To own that space would be a huge coup for Yahoo while sticking it to Google. How? At least three key ways: revenue, mindshare and customer knowledge.

While it's believed that Apple makes a billion or so dollars on its agreement to use Google as its default search engine in Safari, Google makes more through mobile advertising. In fact, many analysts believe that Google generates significantly more revenue through Apple than it does through its own Android world.

At the same time this would remove revenue from Google, it would prop up Yahoo's own advertising business, giving customers a reason to spend more with Yahoo to get in front of the coveted Apple customer. Advertiser attention will shift -- at least a little -- away from Google and focus on Yahoo.

As for mindshare, a deal with Apple could chip away at Google's dominance, reminding iPhone and iPad users that Yahoo is a search engine, too -- that "Google" does not equal "search." This will have trickle effects. At the very least, Yahoo users -- like me -- actually might gravitate toward typing search terms into Yahoo's search field at Yahoo.com, rather than into the unified search field in Safari on the Mac.

While I visit Yahoo.com a few times a day, I rarely use Yahoo to search. Change that behavior through millions of users -- in a one-fell-swoop deal with Apple -- and I've got to imagine that Mayer will be throwing one helluva party.

Customer Knowledge

The other blade on the ax, of course, is customer knowledge. If Google suddenly loses millions of mobile searches, it loses data. And since Google is all about turning user data into revenue, a major river of information would -- at the simple implementation of an iOS update -- vanish.

Tell me more than a few executives at Google aren't taking an extra pair of shorts to work this week.

Meanwhile, this is just Apple, right? Isn't Apple's relevance -- in the face of Android devices everywhere -- overblown? Maybe. But if I were in the mobile ad business, I would covet getting access to a couple hundred million active iPhone users -- and another hundred million active iPad owners.

Can She Do It?

Of course, rumors often are just hopes and dreams, schemes and tidbits of nothing real. To turn Yahoo into Apple's default search engine, Mayer would have to prove that the results were fantastic for end users.

While Apple's executives certainly hold little love for Google -- the company they believe stole iOS and futzed it into Android -- Apple will not throw its users under the bus for a shoddy replacement.

Wait, what?

Oh, Apple did that once already with its own underbaked Maps app. And sort of did it when the deal to include the default YouTube app burned up. While users cried about its absence for a while, Apple seemed to survive its exit, too.

At the same time, Apple already uses Yahoo services in its built-in Weather and Stocks apps.

Just for giggles, I personally set my iPhone to use Yahoo's search instead of Google. Then I ran a couple of tests. The overall results were similar enough to handle my content needs. However, two differences jumped out right away.

First, Google delivered more ads -- but Google's ads were not only displayed in a more compelling way, but also more distinct from regular search results. I appreciate that.

Second, Yahoo's results somehow were less compelling in how they were displayed. I'm not sure why, but I noticed the distinct lack of Google Authorship thumbnail photos, which not only break up the search results from a difficult-to-read list, but make it seem just a bit more personal and alive.

I believe that Apple's executives notice these little details, and according to the rumors, Mayer's team has created presentation materials to show off a more compelling look and feel. Plus, it's possible that she already has gained the support of Apple's SVP master of design, Jony Ive.

Foot in the door indeed.


TechNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at WickedCoolBite.com. You can also connect with him on Google+.


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