Bing Move to Bump Google from the iPhone Underscores Web War

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-01-20 Print this article Print

If Microsoft and Apple are conspiring to make Bing the default search engine on Apple's iPhone, it could put a fly in the thick ointment that is Google's search engine and overall online dominance.

That is, if you believe it. Do you believe it? If you do, then maybe you choose to believe hell is freezing over, as the BusinessWeek article that broke the news eloquently put it.

You also recognize that Microsoft and Apple now view Google, and not necessarily each other, as archnemesis extraordinaire. Microsoft and Apple spent years slugging it out in the PC-based, on-premises desktop world. Google is the new (-ish) kid in town.

If you don't believe Apple and Microsoft are mulling this, then perhaps you are naive about not only how powerful Google has grown on the Web -- 65 percent of search and rising -- but how Microsoft and Apple have come to view Google as their main obstacle to cloud computing.

You also fail to note how Microsoft has become the old dog trying to catch up with the young pups. BusinessWeek said:

"Apple and Google know the other is their primary enemy," says one of the people, who's familiar with Apple's thinking. "Microsoft is now a pawn in that battle."

Pawn. Ouch, but that about sums up the way things have been going for Microsoft's online ventures, which have lost billions of dollars over the years.

Bing is a distant No. 2 in search (10.7 percent), though I have to say Silverlight Maps and some of the other technologies are vast improvements and make search, well, pretty. Windows Mobile is, well, eccchh. Zune is the Zune. Zune phone, anyone?

BusinessWeek quoted Nielsen data to the effect that 86 percent of U.S. mobile searchers used Google in November and 11 percent used Bing. Apple knows this. If it can unseat Google's search ad dominance by putting what is essentially a promising upstart in Bing on the leading mobile smartphone, then Apple and Microsoft, not Google, win on the Web. For once.

Don't think Apple wants this? Think again, as the BusinessWeek article noted: "Apple is also working on ways to manage ad placement on its mobile devices, a move that would encroach on Google's ad-serving business, the person says."

Of course it is. Why else would Apple buy mobile ad network Quattro Wireless, particularly after Google pulled a power move in going for AdMob?

Apple fears Google's mobile Web purview, which is why it bought Placebase (likely to develop its own maps technologies for the iPhone), rendered Google Latitude a Web app and kept Google from offering Google Voice on the iPhone.

The Google Nexus One is like the iPhone's shadow, or aims to be. Why would Apple continue to use Google as its default search engine when Google challenges the iPhone by putting its own Web services on the Nexus One and other Android-based devices?

Speaking of which, Apple has MobileMe Web applications, which vie for traction with Google Apps such Gmail and Google Docs and Google Calendar.

Also, Apple bought Lala, and some believe this is geared toward a big cloud computing music push. Google offers music search, with Lala as a partner. Hmmm. The plot thickens.

Surely there are other areas where the vendors joust. I just can't think of them all at the moment.

The decision can't be easy. Dumping Google as the default for Bing is akin to major hotel chains dumping Coke from vending machines for Pepsi. Sure, some people will drink Bing, but they may prefer Google.

So Apple would be risking confusing some users accustomed to using Google, as they would have to get used to Bing, or switch back to Google, which is what Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling expects.

More than that, Apple may also alienate users who have grown to love Google and Apple and view them as the one-two Web application and consumer device combo that renders Microsoft moot (in so far as a multibillion-dollar corporation may be neutralized).

Indeed, Nick Bilton of the New York Times noted:

Instead of a healthy competitiveness, customers could end up embroiled in format wars between applications they purchase for their phones and the software they use on similar devices.

So while dinging Google by making Bing the default search engine may be good for Apple and Microsoft, it won't necessarily be good for consumers. And that won't be good for Apple and Microsoft.

Does anyone else smell a backfire here in Google's favor? |

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