Apple is reportedly ramping up efforts to develop its own search engine, even as federal regulators have its lucrative search agreement with Google in their crosshairs.
The iPhone maker has begun showing its own search results and links to websites when users enter a query directly on the phone’s home screen, the Financial Times reports. The change signals that Apple may be looking for an off-ramp from its Google partnership should the deal be determined anticompetitive.
The Justice Department last week sued Google, accusing the search giant of breaking the law in its effort to remain “the gateway to the internet,” including with its massive deal with Apple which makes Google the default search engine on iPhones. The DOJ estimates Google shells out between $8 billion to $12 billion per year to Apple in the agreement.
The suit adds urgency to Apple’s efforts. The company may turn to John Giannandrea, Google’s former head of search who Apple poached in 2018 to improve the Siri virtual assistant, to spearhead the project, according to the report.
“They [Apple] have a credible team that I think has the experience and the depth, if they wanted to, to build a more general search engine,” former Google engineering chief and current Sequoia Capital partner Bill Coughran told the FT.
Apple’s web crawler Applebot, which scrapes the web to build a database of information that can serve as a basis for a search engine, has been much more active recently, according to marketing consultants.
The Justice Department’s Google lawsuit promises to be the biggest antitrust case in a generation, comparable to the lawsuit against Microsoft filed in 1998 and the 1974 case against AT&T which led to the breakup of the Bell System.
A House investigation report published earlier this month also accused Apple of holding a monopoly with its control over the App Store, which is the only way to get apps onto iPhones and iPads. Apple takes a 30 percent cut of all in-app purchases, and has total authority over what apps and content make it onto the store.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.