Should Apple ditch Google and buy the DuckDuckGo search engine?

How to use the Smart Search bar in Safari on iPhone and iPad
How to use the Smart Search bar in Safari on iPhone and iPad (Image credit: iMore)

We're less than two weeks away from the start of this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). Between now and then, hang tight and enjoy the ride. Rumors, wish lists, and predictions from analysts and tech writers alike are incoming about Apple's newest hardware and software products.

The latest nugget comes from Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi, who says Apple should purchase the DuckDuckGo search engine and end its long-standing agreement with Google. Sacconaghi, who just last week made a strong case for a sub-$250 Apple Watch, brings up some interesting points here. However, there are plenty of reasons to believe this will never happen.

Currently, Google pays Apple around $7-8 billion a year to be the default search engine on iOS. This payment isn't a lot, especially when you consider the market caps for both companies nears or exceeds $1 trillion each, depending on the week.

Nonetheless, this arrangement has been right for both companies, with the former remaining the No. 1 search engine in the world. At the same time, the latter can concentrate on doing other things in iOS and iPadOS. The agreement also means some rare harmony between the two competing tech giants, at least on this issue.

And yet, like Sacconaghi, I believe Apple could benefit, at least to a degree, by acquiring DuckDuckGo and thereby cutting ties to Google Search.

For one, Apple could likely get the No. 4 search engine in the U.S. for less than $ 1 billion. As Sacconaghi notes, this amounts to "less than a week's worth of cash flow."

Snatching DuckDuckGo would also allow Apple to reassert its privacy bona fides. The search engine, unlike Google, doesn't store personal content and keeps search information away from advertisers. No doubt, these are the central reasons users now perform over 1.8 billion searches per month using the engine.

And yet, I don't expect Apple to acquire DuckDuckGo because there are few significant reasons to do so.

First, I can't imagine anyone inside Apple feels now would be a great time to begin another battle against Google, especially with the world in a recession.

Then there's the issue of revenue, or lack thereof, in comparison with Apple.

DuckDuckGo on iPhone

DuckDuckGo on iPhone (Image credit: DuckDuckGo)

As a private company, DuckDuckGo doesn't have to publish its yearly revenues. In October 2019, however, Megan Gray, the company's general counsel and head of policy, told visitors at Bloomberg's Sooner Than You Think conference that revenues are "well above" $25 million per year.

Even if this number were $50 million or $100 million a year, it would dwarf in comparison to Google, which reported 2019 ad revenues of nearly $135 billion. Apple's 2019 revenues, meanwhile, topped $260 billion.

It's also important to note that were Apple to replace Google with DuckDuckGo as the default browser suddenly, the former wouldn't go away. Yes, by becoming the default browser on iPhone and iPad, DuckDuckGo would instantly gain millions of new users. And yet, it would almost certainly not be enough for it to overtake Google.

Though Google is Apple's default search engine for Safari, as an end-user, you can change this to DuckDuckGo, Bing, or Yahoo.

Finally, understand that historically, Apple likes to build stuff from scratch rather than buy something already on the market. If Apple wants a search engine to call its own, it's more likely to begin fresh than to acquire an existing product.

What say you?

Do you think Apple should purchase DuckDuckGo? Let us know in the comments below.

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.

  • Nowadays must of their innovations are done because they acquired a company, a technology or an existent patent. Besides their IO and iPhone Chips, they buy the other components to third parties; so in my humble opinion, it’s not accurate to say that they really build things from scratch. Note: I use and own almost everything from Apple. At the end I think the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and between Microsoft and Google, Apple went with Google, which overlaps in many business branches with Microsoft.
  • Apple historically likes to build things from Scratch? MacOS is NEXT, iTunes is SoundJam, Siri was bought from SRI/Nuance. I'm very confused by this statement.
  • Ohhhh...
    apple always buy the existence patent and labeling their name. We are an app development company we find the same thing as all the year goes.
  • I think DuckDuckGo would be a great fit with Apple. I've been using it as my default browser/search engine for at least a year and it works very well. Its very nice not being blitzed by advertising based on my searches and the company issues weekly privacy tips via a newsletter that I've found helpful. I'd love to see Apple make this part of the iOS and I think a lot of folks would appreciate as well. DuckDuckGo's corporate philosophy seems to me to be something that would fit well in Apple's universe too. Back when Gmail was getting going, I hoped at the time that Apple would strongly move into that area. For whatever reason, they chose not to do that and I think we are all a bit poorer for it. For the same reasons that I thought an Apple Gmail competitor was a good move, I feel the same way about search. Google is great but a large, well funded competitor, would only improve things going forward for everyone.
  • In my mind, Apple would do very to acquire DuckDuckGo. It would cement the philosophy of security that Apple wants to present to the world. Plus, I hate Google and the stunts that they pull.