By Dan Moren
October 30, 2020 5:08 PM PT
The Back Page: Search and ye shall find…maybe
Big Internet news this week, as a report claimed that we might finally—finally—see some competition in the search market, after years of being subject to the tyranny of a single dominant player. Take that, Alta Vista!
listens to earpiece Uh, I mean, Google. Yes. Google.
Look, we, all of us—except for Bono1—use search each and every day to get around the Internet. It’s a critical piece of not just web infrastructure, but our lives. And while Google has been the de facto homepage of the web for the last twenty years, it’s about time for a NEW CHALLENGER TO ENTER.
And apparently that challenger is…Apple?
It’s not exactly a no-brainer. Apple hasn’t really distinguished itself on the web over the past, uh, well, sort of forever. I mean, they still haven’t figured out how to not have to take down their entire online store during Apple events.2 Come on, guys: walk and chew gum at the same time. Granted, iCloud has been mostly stable for a while, but only because they’ve been steadily feeding it a diet of fresh servers and Apple Park interns.
This isn’t the first time Apple has gone head to head with its most notable frenemy, but it hasn’t always gone well. Cast your mind back to when Cupertino first replaced Google Maps with Apple Maps, an experience that one could call “smooth” only with the deepest of irony. There were some real problems: melting bridges in 3D view, nonsensical directions, and farms mislabeled as airports. You know, minor details.
So now Apple’s supposedly going to try to take on Google in search. In its house. Where it lives. (I don’t really know how geography works.) The good news is that, in advance of taking Google on in its home, it kidnapped the head of its family.
I may be stretching this metaphor a bit too far.
John Giannandrea, Apple’s current vice president of machine learning, was previously the head of Google’s search project, so if anybody knows about search, it’s him or, alternatively, the people who have been looking for aliens for the last fifty years. But probably him.
Does it make sense for Apple to challenge Google here? Surely there must be somebody better suited to such a fight. How about Microsoft? Wait, no they have Bing. Amazon? Ehhhh, probably best not to give them anymore control. Faceb—full body shudder.
So, if not Apple, then whom? You can laud your Duck Duck Gos all you want, but I was going to name two more search engines there and I couldn’t do it without typing “alternative search engines” into Google, and come on, that tells you something, because I didn’t even say alternative to what.
A lot of attention is being dropped on Google right now because the government says it has a monopoly in search, and it’s sure hard to argue that it doesn’t have a dominant market position, even if that doesn’t result in the kind of thing we’re used to from a monopoly. After all, it’s not like Google is charging us twenty dollars every time we type in a search term and we just throw up our hands and say “What choice do I have?”
Maybe some plucky upstart might come along and find a way to unseat the current champion, but let me give you one and only one piece of advice: definitely don’t bet on that. The rich only get richer, and the search only get…uh…searcher.
The upside is that Apple, in the end, doesn’t really need to topple Google. It doesn’t even need to grab a huge section of market share, as its shown with the Mac and iOS. It just needs to be good enough, and when it comes to services, well, that might just be something Apple can nail.
So, you do it, Apple. You go be…fine. What can it hurt?
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]