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Apple/Google Turf Battle Rages On: Mobile Search on the Block

boland-michael
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The world of mobile search continues to heat up. This week saw Apple in talks with Microsoft to have Bing replace Google as the default search engine on the iPhone. This results from the growing turf battle between Apple and Google.

At stake is the default Google search bar on the iPhone's Safari browser, as well as the default mapping application on the iPhone home screen. Among other things, the latter has implications for mobile local search, a quickly developing area for Google.

Google vs. Apple
  • Google and Apple are embroiled in an escalating turf battle. Apple is getting into search and advertising, while Google is getting into making and selling smart phones.
  • The latest shot was fired this week when Apple initiated talks with Microsoft to have Bing replace Google as the default search engine on the iPhone.
  • Google's position in mobile search (86 percent market share), partly has the iPhone to thank, but its brand loyalty and continuing innovations in mobile software will sustain it.
  • Google's positioning with the Android mobile operating system will also allow it to maintain and even grow mobile search share, with or without the iPhone.

But for Google it's more about search share, which it's been able to replicate from its online dominance, with 86 percent of mobile searches, according to Nielsen. Partly to thank is the iPhone default positioning now in question, given the device's leading share of mobile Web traffic.

Mobile Staying Power

If Apple gives this spot to Bing, it should likewise see traffic growth. But Bing could also just be a temporary bargaining chip in the ongoing Apple/Google saga. As they continue to step into each other's territories, Apple could develop its own mobile search engine.

At least in the short term, Bing's gain would be Google's loss. But it could have a smaller effect than you think. In addition to default iPhone positioning, Google's mobile search dominance has come from brand equity and user loyalties migrating from online to mobile.

This is more in the hands (literally) of mobile users, and thus out of reach of any deal-making by Apple or anyone else. This factor also grows as mobile usage continues to advance and go "off deck" to find whatever sites or apps are desired.

In Google's case, this could materialize through its iPhone search app or through direct navigation to Google's mobile site via home screen bookmark. In addition to this potential "manual override" on the iPhone, Google has another thing going for it: Android.

Though the iPhone garners the majority of mobile traffic, as mentioned, Android should eclipse its platform reach and traffic over the next few years. And ownership of the OS clearly lets Google position its own search engine front and center.

Google's Eyes & Ears

Google is fond of saying in presentations that the mobile device, unlike the desktop, has the human characteristics of mobility, eyes, ears, and touch. The company's not-so-subtle point is that these will be the basis for much of its future mobile product development.

This isn't just the case for text -- the leading search input -- but also in emerging areas like voice and visual search. This comes down to the notion that growing smart phone penetration leads to parallel evolutions in the way we search.

Specifically, there's a great deal of product development and usage percolating around search inputs that are more fitting to the mobile device (voice and visual), compared to those borrowed from the PC (typing).

Google is fond of saying in presentations that the mobile device, unlike the desktop, has the human characteristics of mobility, eyes, ears, and touch. The company's not-so-subtle point is that these will be the basis for much of its future mobile product development.

A recent example is voice search capabilities that are pervasive across the NexusOne's major functions. Google Goggles is another: It queries image databases to return results for any picture taken with a compatible Android device. It's unproven but should grow.

A nearer term opportunity where Google has dabbled is point-of-sale search, a la bar code scanning. The idea is that the phone's camera scans product UPC codes and returns specs, pricing, reviews, and nearby availability.

This goes back to Google's longstanding interest in local search. Except in this case, users standing in front of a store shelf have greater buying intent than those researching products on a home PC. This translates to higher search ad premiums (read: bids).

One potential revenue model is a bid marketplace where advertisers bid on scans the same way they currently bid on keywords in Google. Google no doubt has its eyes on this prize, as do popular apps like Red Laser and ShopSavvy.

The Bigger Picture: Google Will be Just Fine

There are further off applications for voice and visual search where Google likewise has crosshairs set. These include the favorite discussion of tech media and analyst circles: augmented reality.

But the main point is that Google's ownership of the mobile OS and its brand loyalty both solidify the depth to which its tentacles are planted in the mobile marketplace. By extension, its search market share -- iPhone default or not -- is ultimately safe.


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