The Search Engine Report: Hey Apple, Why Not More Choices?

February 4th, 2010

When you run Safari, the search address bar will give you any search engine, so long as it’s Google. With the iPhone, you can select Yahoo! as an alternate. Sure, you might find it only slightly less convenient simply to visit the search engine of your choice, and add it to Safari’s toolbar.

However, as you know, most people tend to stick with the default settings, be it a browser, a search engine or loads of other options on a Mac or a PC. Certainly that works to Google’s advantage, since it holds such a huge share of the market. It doesn’t hurt that we “Google” something rather than search for it. Being a verb pretty much means that Google will own search for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean that Apple shouldn’t give you some alternatives.

This all comes in the wake of Apple’s ongoing competitive byplay with Google. Where they were once close allies, speaking in a corporate fashion of course, these days they are at loggerheads in more and more markets, particularly smartphones. The forthcoming Google Chrome OS will initially find its way into netbooks, which are regarded as prime competition for the iPad. And let’s not forget the mockups you’ve seen of tablet computers running Chrome OS.

In any case, regardless of which search engine they support, Apple isn’t providing the links freely. No doubt they receive a cut of the income or some other form of payment to have Google on Safari, and Google and Yahoo! on the iPhone.

As you know, there’s a Bing app for the iPhone, and, of course, Bing will power Yahoo! once that deal with Microsoft is concluded. It would therefore make a lot of sense to simply offer Bing as an option for iPhone users. It’s not as if Apple and Microsoft haven’t cooperated before, even though they compete fiercely in the operating system front.

Having Bing on the iPhone as an option would be a win-win for Microsoft, which is spending huge sums of money to promote the latest revision to their search engine.

Now as an aside, I think the Bing ads run on TV are perfectly awful, perhaps even more irritating than the ones for Windows 7. But that’s not the point. The key issues involve giving you a choice without asking you to manually go to a separate site or add it as a bookmark, and also to take a little business away from Google.

When it comes to actually writing code for a new option on the iPhone or the Mac and PC versions of Safari, that’s a no-brainer, and nothing that can’t be done by a skilled programmer in a few days, assuming there isn’t already a version with that capability sitting in Apple’s test labs. I’ve even seen some hacks that promise to accomplish that task in the desktop version of Safari, but they are evidently saddled by internal blocks against adding extra search sites in the app itself.

The real issue is the nature of Apple’s contract with Google and how much wiggle room is present to allow other search engines to be included. Then again, nothing forces you to use Safari, although I wonder how many Mac users simply don’t bother to consider the alternatives that include Firefox, Google Chrome and Opera, and these are only the more popular choices.

Firefox, whose publisher, Mozilla, receives tens of millions of dollars of cash from Google each year to fund their operations, offers a number of standard search options and allows you to add even more, including Bing, if that’s what you want. The same holds true for Opera, although it’s a bit trickier to add Bing to that app’s preferences.

Certainly Microsoft’s management ought to be pushing hard to give Mac users another alternative. How Apple might treat such overtures is anyone’s guess, but Yahoo!’s presence on the iPhone ought to be sufficient incentive to go one step further.

Of course, if search engine choice makes sense, why not take this all one step further? Sure, Safari doesn’t have a lock on the browser business, although most Mac users never try anything else. Obviously Apple wants more and more people to use WebKit based browsers (and that includes Google Chrome by the way), but in the spirit of openness, maybe they should also consider a browser ballot box when you set up a new Mac.

Sure it makes a whole lot more sense on the Windows platform because of Internet Explorer’s unfair dominance of the world market, although the browser ballot box is only mandated for Europe. But it is not a difficult task to devise a similar feature for Apple’s initial Mac setup screen. Then again, Apple doesn’t want you to have to think about such choices. That goes against the grain of not just making it simple, but giving them as much control as possible over their platform and the use of their products.

So in the end, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see additional standard search engine choices on a Mac, iPhone or iPad, and a much smaller chance that you’ll have an Apple-built option to choose an alternate browser.

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7 Responses to “The Search Engine Report: Hey Apple, Why Not More Choices?”

  1. Paul says:

    Glims is a great plug-in which lets you select your search engine. It also enables a few other preferences which may be handy.



  2. dfs says:

    In theory, choice is a Good Thing. The reality is maybe a little different. Most folks find Apple’s preference for Google quite fine because they think that Google is by far the best search engine available. I admit that I haven’t tried Bing very much, but I’ve managed to convince myself Google beats the socks off the traditional competition (Yahoo, etc.)

  3. dfs says:

    Gene, the only worthwhile “real world” test I know is to search for the same thing with different engines, especially if the thing in question is something you know a fair amount about, so you have a pretty good idea what ought to turn up. The browser that finds the largest number of relevant hits and the least amount of crap, and that puts the relevant stuff up front, wins the contest. On the occasions I’ve done head-to-head comparisons between engines Google has come out distinctly ahead.

  4. Modal Man says:

    The odd thing about the Google search thing in Safari is that it doesn’t use the local version (not in mine anyway), and most of the complaints I see are from people who want that capability. Doing a search and have the results pop up on a page that (1) gives you the option to restrict results to Canada, or (2) only gives the Canadian results, is extremely useful. For many people it’s about which Google they see, not whether it’s Google or something else.

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