Apple is not building a web search engine — yet, that I know of. But through its new, voice-controlled mobile “Assistant” feature in iOS 5, Apple could change the way people think of searching, building search-and-retrieve directly into the iOS user interface. (Expect an unveiling early next month.) And that could potentially start to loosen Google’s grip on search.
Assistant taps into many aspects of the iPhone, according to people familiar with the feature and SDK findings. For example, one can say make appointment with Mark Gurman for 7:30 PM and Assistant will create the appointment in the user’s calendar. […] Another example would be integration with the iOS Maps application. A user could ask: “how do I get to Staples centre?” and Assistant will use the user’s current location via GPS and provide directions. […]
Assistant is literally like a personal assistant, but in your phone. The speech interpretation is so accurate that users do not even have to speak very clearly or in a slow and robotic tone, according to a source familiar with the software. Users can simply talk how they would usually talk to another person, and the iPhone with Assistant will do its best to interpret the speech and provide accurate results.
Why should Google care about this? Apple isn’t, after all, replacing Google as the iPhone’s main web search engine. (And iPhone users do plenty of Google searches.)
Because it’s actually doing something bigger: It’s teaching people how to search on their phones in an entirely different way — ideally, better – than how they’re used to searching today with Google in a browser.
The important idea is that Apple is getting between you and Google in your mobile searches, by teaching you a new behaviour. Apple can then route those search queries and results however it wants — to Google, directly into iOS apps, to mobile websites, to Apple services, to iTunes, etc. Google doesn’t need to necessarily play a role. And that’s potentially dangerous to Google, which still gets the vast majority of its profits from search advertising.
It’s also another reason why Android is actually very important to Google — it represents Google’s opportunity to do the same thing, except making sure Google services are at the core of whatever user-interface features end up defining mobile search. So far, Google has been pretty successful with that. But in the U.S., Android isn’t likely to reach Google’s share of the desktop search market.
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