Last year the FTC asked Apple to disclose the terms of Google’s “default” search presence on iOS. This was part of the US government’s broader antitrust investigation of Google, which is now over. To my knowledge none of that information made it out into the public eye.
However at approximately the same time an analyst at Macquarie Capital estimated that Google was making $1.3 billion in paid search revenue from iOS devices. Macquarie speculated that Google returned about $1 billion of that to Apple as part of the agreement that made Google the default search engine on the Safari browser.
A little less than a year later, it’s being reported that another financial analyst has come up with a similar estimate of the value of Google’s default iOS search deal with Apple: $1 billion. Morgan Stanley’s Scott Devitt is responsible for the new estimate, published in a report released on Friday.
Devitt disagreed with Macquarie, arguing that the structure of the relationship is probably not a “revenue sharing” deal but instead a straight fee-per-device payment from Google to Apple. Devitt believes that Google pays Apple roughly $3.20 per iOS device, which would avoid the accounting issues arising from a revenue sharing agreement.
Google and Apple originally struck an agreement in 2003 that made Google the default search engine on the PC version of the Safari browser. And even during the height of the “thermonuclear” period, Steve Jobs renewed search and maps deals with Google.
The FTC has not intervened in the Google-Apple relationship so this payment arrangement could go on for as long as the parties desire in theory. However it would be quite interesting if Google or Apple declined to renew.
While it’s extremely unlikely that Apple would try and make Siri into a full-fledged search engine, it could significantly beef up Siri’s content search and discovery capabilities. In that capacity Apple might be able to siphon off selected commercial queries in key categories such as local, travel and entertainment.
Late last year Apple hired William Stasior to run Siri. Stasior took over Amazon’s A9 after Udi Manber left for Google. He was also an executive at AltaVista. We can thus infer that Apple has search on its mind and will continue to develop and evolve its useful-if-flawed voice assistant.
Mobile is at the center of current innovation in search and Apple could be a bigger player if it chose to. Regardless, the company would still need a “fall back” web search capability. And despite the opinion of Bill Gates that “Bing is the better product at this point” that web search engine is likely to remain Google.