The Silent War for Apple’s Default Search Engine

The Silent War for Apple's Default Search Engine

For years, Google has been the world’s undisputed choice of search engine, becoming almost synonymous with internet search. Google currently controls about 92% of the search engine market, with Bing and other search engines dragging tail at less than 8% market share. 


Beneath the surface, a silent war has been brewing—a clandestine battle between tech titans, Google and Microsoft. Google currently holds the coveted position of being Apple’s default search engine. However, Microsoft was willing to double down on its efforts to steal Apple from Google. This article delves into this high-stakes battle, as well as what it means for the future of search. 


Smart Devices and Search Engines

At least 60% of all internet searches come from smart devices such as Android smartphones, tablets, iPhones, and iPads. The search engine on such devices has therefore become a coveted piece of digital real estate. Besides that, users are likely to use the same search engine on their web browsers that they do on their smart devices. This sets the stage for the battle between the two titans – Microsoft and Google. 


In 2020, Google reportedly paid a staggering $10 billion to Apple for the privilege of being the default search engine on Apple devices. This figure escalated to $15 billion in 2021. Apple, being targeted at a wealthier market base, is a fitting choice for either Google or Microsoft’s search engines, seeing as access to such a market might translate to higher ad revenues in the long run. 


Interesting so far. This is a topic that will eventually end up in essays and research papers due to how important it is for the tech landscape. Remember to hire an essay writer if you end up needing any extra help with your paper. 

The Audacious Microsoft Move

Microsoft was on a quiet campaign to dethrone Google as the default search engine on Microsoft devices, and this campaign took a bold turn in 2016. Microsoft considered investing billions of dollars in a deal with Apple that would have made Bing the default browser on Apple’s Safari browser.


Meetings were held between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Apple CEO Tim Cook to discuss the possibility of such a deal. While the deal did not go through, it demonstrated Microsoft’s willingness to go to great lengths to be a worthy player in the search engine game.


The War Between Microsoft and Google Goes Public

In October 2023, Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, took the stand in a US federal court as part of an FTC hearing. In his testimony, Nadella highlighted how Microsoft and other competitors had struggled to overcome Google’s chokehold on the search engine market. By using multibillion-dollar exclusive deals, Google effectively locked out other companies from being able to compete on the vast search engine landscape. 


On the suit by the FTC, Google claimed that it didn’t violate any antitrust laws because users could, in theory, change their default search engine to any other, a claim which Nadella termed as “bogus”. Google’s attorneys on the flip side hammered Nadella with such questions as why was Microsoft such a late entrant in the search engine game. Did Microsoft invest enough in its search product? Does Microsoft’s search engine even come close enough to Google’s in terms of quality? 


What’s striking in Microsoft’s suite is that it was targeted in the ‘90s for something eerily similar to Google’s battle with anti-trust regulators; Microsoft Explorer was the default search engine on all Microsoft devices, although not maybe to the same scale as Google. So, the tables seem to have turned for Microsoft which seems so used to dominance.


Another key point brought up by Nadella was the fact that Google’s supremacy on the internet effectively meant that Google could build AI tools that could dominate the search engines entirely. In the latter sections of this article, we’ll look at how the entry of AI tools such as ChatGPT can change the search engine game for Microsoft and what this means for Google. 

The Broader Implications of Google's Dominance

Google certainly offers superior products that seem advantageous to users. On top of that, Google has an entire ecosystem built around its search, not just for individual users but also for businesses. It certainly would prove very difficult to convince users to change from Google as their search engine. It’s just easier for them to access Google Cloud, Drive, Meet, Business Analytics, or any of the other array of options that Google offers to users. 


While Google’s position as the dominant search engine may seem advantageous for users, it raises several concerns. Competitors like Bing and DuckDuckGo face an uphill battle when trying to compete with Google as the preferred search engine. However, Google paying device operators like Apple to be their default search engine can cause an imbalance that stifles competition and innovation in the search domain. 


Companies like Yelp, which hosts crowd-sourced reviews, have argued that Google’s prioritization of its products over those of competitors hampers fair competition. Its dominant position means that Google can set the rules and tone of the industry.


AI’s Entry into Search

The entry of AI into the search engine domain has promised to completely revolutionize the business. In February 2023, Google unveiled Bard, its chatbot that looked to completely solidify its already dominant presence in search. Microsoft, on the other hand, signed an exclusive partnership with ChatGPT which is seemingly more advanced than Bard.


Some felt that Bard’s entry into the search game was knee-jerk, as the tech was quite ready for the prime time. Kevin Roose, the New York Times’ technology critic, explored Bard and, while appreciating its potential, concluded that it wasn’t perfect. 


The entry of AI into search engines introduces an entirely new level of sophistication to the internet. Google’s Bard introduces a new level of AI sophistication to its search engine. Bard will eventually allow voice searches and complex natural language queries, and all these seem within Google’s capabilities given that it boasts Deep Mind, probably the world’s most advanced AI/ML system. With this in mind, it only seems logical that Google’s position as the dominant search engine on all types of devices is seemingly solidified. All limitations pointed out on Bard might soon be a thing of the past as Google works overtime to perfect the model. 


On the other hand, Microsoft’s ChatGPT complements the tech giant’s aspirations to improve Bing’s capabilities. By integrating conversational AI into search queries, ChatGPT enhances the user experience. It enables more natural and context-aware interactions with the search engine, which could pull away a substantial number of users from Google. Thus, Bing might go from less than 10% of internet searches sooner rather than later. This might explain why Google raced to release Bard even as it was still under development. 

The Battlefield in a Larger Context

It seems to some that Microsoft going after Google in an anti-trust court is almost hypocritical. Microsoft has itself been the antagonist in such scenarios before. Some quarters view Microsoft as being salty since they lost the computer game to Apple and the internet game to Google. 


There are also smaller search engines that don’t even look to be part of the conversation. These include AOL, Baidu, and even a privacy-focused search engine like DuckDuckGo. How will this silent war affect them? Will they benefit or lose? Or will it make no difference to them seeing as Microsoft and Google are almost two sides of the same anti-trust coin?


There’s no denying that the entry of AI into search engines promises to improve the quality of searches and overall internet experience by catering to specific human preferences. As AI technology evolves, these engines might gain an edge in understanding and catering to user needs more effectively. For example, if you’re searching for writing help, you might soon be able to scan a website like and get results from AI without needing to go into the website itself. 


However, this AI transformation also raises concerns about data privacy and the control AI entities have over user data. There is also the aspect of whether data accessibility by these search engines would have to be paid for. For example, Reddit management has alluded recently to the possibility of Reddit being completely uncrawlable to search engines such as Google, with the company confident that it could exist outside of that ecosystem with its community of users. 

Future of the Silent War

Satya Nadella’s testimony against Google underscored the challenges of competing with the Alphabet Company. Both have deep pockets, but it seems that Google’s are just a bit deeper. On top of that, Google has an entire ecosystem built around its search engines. Beyond the $10-15 billion that Google pays to Apple to be its default, maybe Apple just sees this as logical to maintain Google. It shouldn’t be lost that Apple and Google are quite fierce competitors who will partner together when it suits them. 



The silent war between Microsoft and Google has underscored just how important search engines are in the modern era of the internet. Microsoft’s attempts to unseat Google underscore just how important this digital battleground is. The battle becomes more intricate with the emergence of generative or conversational AI from both ends.


For regular users like you and me, this war might mean little if only to improve our overall experience. Google has claimed that users can always change their default browser to their preference. Beyond that, google is just superior at internet search and maybe this is just what most users including iPhone users might prefer. 


The company that wins the final battle will be the one that can provide the best user experience while keeping sensitive to the needs of users. 


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