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Yahoo is hoping to become even more important to iPhone owners. The company already provides the data used for the device’s stock-and weather-tracking apps — now it’s looking to replace Google as the Safari browser’s default search service, according to a Re/code report.

Yahoo chief executive Marissa Mayer is said to have already pitched several Apple executives, including Jony Ive, on the idea. The partnership hinges on developing a search service that doesn’t rely on Bing, which Yahoo has done since 2009.

Apple might be willing to make the switch just so it can further distance itself from Google. The company previously replaced Google’s mapping service with its own solution and removed the YouTube app from its mobile operating system. Partnering with Yahoo for search might allow the company to finally cut all of its ties with its partner-turned-rival once and for all.

The deal would demonstrate the paradox of defaults on mobile operating systems. On the one hand, it would allow Yahoo to get its new search service in front of many consumers who are probably too lazy to ever change the default. On the other hand, it might convince Google users to download the company’s apps and increase its presence on its rival’s smartphone platform.

I wrote about Google’s rising prominence on the iPhone after the company announced that users could seamlessly jump between its Gmail, Google Maps, and Chrome apps:

Now, with Gmail and Google’s other “core” services operating in tandem, iPhone users might finally be able to avoid Safari, or Mail.app, or — and this is the big one — Apple’s Maps application. Between this and the introduction of (an admittedly stripped-down version of) Google Now on iOS, the iPhone is starting to look less like a slave to Apple’s will and more like a Google-phone that happens to have an Apple logo on its back.

The company increased that utility when it announced that signing in to one Google app will sign you in to other Google apps installed on your device. As Pando’s James Robinson wrote:

As reported yesterdaydiscovered in the fine print of a nearly month old update to its Gmail app was that Google now supports automatic sign-in across all Apple devices running iOS 7.0 and up (so, 85 percent of iPhone users). Log in to Maps, YouTube, Drive, Gmail or whatever your Google app of choice is – across both iPhone and iPad – and you’re now logged in to everything. It’s a mobile version of its ‘one login’ move pulled on desktops in 2012. Supposedly convenient for you, but really, really convenient for Google. The Gmail app now supports background refresh too, so even if you’re not using it directly, it’s still pulling in all of your emails. Google doesn’t need a social media network anymore, because it already knows what you ate for breakfast.

Giving people a reason to download Google’s search app — and let’s be honest, in a world where people use apps to solve almost all of their problems, they’re more likely to download the app than to change the default search service on their iPhone — would only help Google. In addition to keeping most of its users, Google would also be able to continue building its system-within-a-system on the devices Apple has so desperately fought to remove it from.

Like I said: A Google-phone that happens to have an Apple logo on its back.

Reactions from around the Web

SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan isn’t convinced that Yahoo can pull it off:

In the years since Yahoo last did search, the amount of information to comb through on the web has increased — meaning much more noise to draw signal from. Meanwhile, potential employees serious about web search have long ago decamped to Google and Bing. Both those companies have huge teams involved in running mature search operations. Despite some Yahoo hires, there’s been no signs the company is drawing anywhere near the staffing that Google or Bing has.

[…]

Some might think that Yahoo doesn’t need to do as big a job as Google or Bing does. Maybe it just needs to focus on answering popular questions. That, however, overlooks the fact that if Yahoo can’t answer virtually every question tossed at it, consumers will get frustrated. For all the talk about mobile search, contextual search, popular answers, predictive search, local listings, it’s web search that remains the core foundation that everything is built off of. If you don’t have that foundation, everything can topple over.

Reuters notes that Apple might not be able to give up on the cash cow known as its Google partnership:

Google search, which has been the default search engine in iOS and powered Apple’s Safari Web browser used on iPhones and iPads for quite some time, pays Apple about $1 billion per year for traffic driven to its servers and subsequent ad network, Apple Insider said, referring to the same rumors.

Apple’s decision to stick with Google’s services over the years also reflects a desire to maintain a familiar user experience, the blog said. 

iMore points out that Apple uses different search engines for different apps and services:

Fire up Safari on your iPhone or iPad today and you’ll most likely find Google as the default search engine — but if Yahoo has their way that might change. Users have the option to change from Google to other search providers such as Bing or Yahoo, but Google’s had the default spot locked down for some time thanks to the handsome sum they’ve been paying Apple for the privilege. But Microsoft’s Bing is the default search used in Siri, so count that as a win for Redmond. Yahoo isn’t too happy that Google holds the crown jewel default search in Safari, and they’re apparently aiming to convince Apple to change that.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]