I'm not the first to ponder this, but I would never have given it true consideration until today's earlier speculation about Google Android netbooks. Should Google head in that direction, it would make the company not just a search engine but an operating system provider. Simply competing in just the mobile handset market isn't enough, but getting on mini laptops - that's an
They would be the opposite of Microsoft, which was first all about operating systems and later about search.
That would leave Apple and Yahoo, one an operating system provider and computer manufacturer and the other the second place search engine with a wealth of solid web properties (finance, sports, news, etc.)
Apple has built its business on providing the awesome alternative to existing products that are already quite decent. The iPod, iPhone, and all of Apple's laptops weren't the first, but they were an impressive addition to existing markets. In the case of the iPod and now the iPhone, they took the markets they entered into a whole new level.
Search is waiting for the next level. Apple is noted for its great file search on its laptops, though iTunes search sucks so bad, it needs some definite help. Apple has the corporate culture to innovate search. Perhaps what it needs is talent.
Yahoo has that in droves, but management has been holding it back.
Now, I know that the natural response is that Apple has close ties with Google. But I'm not sure how long those will last. Already, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who sits on Apple's board, leaves board meetings when the iPhone comes up due to the conflict of interest with Google Android.
If Android hits the netbook market, how could Schmidt legitimately remain on Apple's board at all?
Another caveat is that if Apple were to acquire Yahoo!, the brand Yahoo! would likely cease to exist. This would become more acceptable if Yahoo!'s stock drops to $2-3 a share, which is the only likely scenario in which Apple would actually pick up Yahoo.
At that point, they would very likely have to fight Microsoft to do it. Microsoft's cash reserves are deeper than Apple's, and Microsoft would want to beat out Apple on both search and operating system fronts.
But almost no one sees Yahoo as thriving under Microsoft. The second and third search engines would be consolidated, but increasing search market share would be a big IF.
Apple right now is the only viable, visible shot search has at innovating - unless there's another genius building the next great thing in a dorm room at Stanford. But they'll have to be very forward thinking and beat Microsoft to the punch at just the right moment. With their increasing share of the pc market as of late, they might just be able to pull it off.