A new report claims Apple might be working on its own search engine

Apple Mac Spotlight
Apple Mac Spotlight (Image credit: iMore)

What you need to know

  • Apple is reportedly showing signs that it is working on its own search engine.
  • The company is advertising for new search engineers.
  • Its bot is crawling sites and Spotlight now bypasses Google.

Apple is showing signs that it is working on its own, privacy-first search engine according to a new report. The company is hiring search engineers and further obfuscating Google from things like Spotlight search, among other things.

According to Coywolf and Jon Henshaw, there are plenty of reasons to think that Apple might be working on its own search engine so it can ditch Google as its default option on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. The first reason is the possibility that its deal with Google – one that rakes in huge sums of money every year – is coming to a close and that competition laws might ultimately put an end to it anyway. But there's more going on here, too.

As the report notes, Apple is already hiring engineers with an aim to bring artificial intelligence, machine learning, and more to its services and apps. Couple that with the fact that iOS 14 and iPadOS 14 don't show web-based search results in Spotlight – instead, pushing users directly to the sites they're searching for – and Henshaw posits that Apple is further trying to do away with external search.

iPadOS 14 Spotlight Search

iPadOS 14 Spotlight Search (Image credit: Coywolf)

One of the notable features of Spotlight Search is its ability to search Google. In iOS and iPadOS 13, a user can quickly type a query in Spotlight Search and tap on a result that will open Safari and display search results from Google. However, in iOS and iPadOS 14, Spotlight Search returns search results that completely bypass Google's search engine. In version 14, users are provided with actual pages and news articles, and can now go directly to those sites.

Apple's Applebot web crawler has also been busy crawling pages of late, while Apple updated its Applebot support page to include more information for webmasters.

  • Added how to verify traffic from Applebot
  • Expanded details on the Applebot user agent, including differences between its desktop and mobile version
  • Expanded robots.txt rules
  • Added a section stating that they don't just crawl HTML, but also render pages similar to Google
  • Added a section on search rankings and the factors that affect how it ranks web search results

An Apple-built search engine makes plenty of sense for both users and the company alike. Apple gets to tout improved privacy and security by keeping everything in-house, something that will appeal to users on multiple levels. It also allows Apple to make predictions based on web search, iCloud data, and more while further strengthening platform "lock-in" to ensure Apple users remain Apple users moving forward.

The full Coywolf piece is worth a read whether you're interested in seeing how Apple could implement a search engine or are wondering what it means for your own website and SEO.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.