Apple and Google have always been, or almost always are, both partners and competitors. They remember the relationship between the frog and the scorpion in Aesop’s fairy tale: a scorpion has to cross a river and asks for a passage to a nearby frog. The frog, reluctantly and fearlessly, offers a passage to the scorpion persuaded by the fact that it would have been against the same interest of the scorpion to sting her but, halfway between the two shores, the scorpion attacks her condemning both to death. The frog asks the scorpion why of this gesture and the animal, with an aberrant simplicity, answers: “It’s my nature”.
Apple host, since the dawn of iPhone, Google as the default search engine. It hosts it for mutual convenience, that of Apple to offer its consumers a search engine that is a standard of the web and that of Google that ensures that iPhone users do not try different search engines. It’s also so convenient for Google to pay Apple 1 billion dollars a year to stay there.
But the sting of the scorpion – who play in turn – is already ready to launch the attack. Google launches Android entering the field of the bitten apple at a footer, Apple declares war, termonuclear to use the words of Steve Jobs, to the search giant. All as they collaborate and help each other cross the river. Although neither Apple nor Google seem to be able to end up like the unfortunate animals, it is in their nature to be rivals. After all, their products, on closer inspection, are increasingly meeting similar consumer needs.
Apple started its thermonuclear war by launching Apple Maps, in spite of Google Maps, a few years ago. It called them with the same name in the hope that its users, loyal to Google Maps, were wrong and began to use those Apple. Are the iPhone users using Google services Apple customers or Google customers? It sounds like a philosophical question but hides behind many consumer loyalty strategies. The power of those who guarantee access is that they can obstruct it, prevent it or, more profitably, study access behaviour and then replicate the service.
First maps, now search?
In 2004 Apple launched Spotlight, the way to search for files on your Mac. For almost 10 years they left it unchanged, dedicated to an almost marginal, albeit functional, role for the operating system. In the various releases of iOS has begun to take an increasingly important role, although never in the foreground, until he was deliberately confused with Siri in iOS9. Today his name is Siri Assistant and it does much more than what we’re used to knowing about Siri – originally a name that only represented the voice commands of the iPhone.
Siri, in addition to being the way to access information on the iPhone, such as calling a given contact in the address book, was also born as a natural language interface that could respond to well-defined needs: reviews and reservations of restaurants, information on concerts, criticism and film programming up to more effective answers such as knowing the capital of the Kongo or the meaning of life – “42” quoting the film Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Then came the integration with WikiPedia, then Apple Maps and many others.
Today Siri is able to answer many questions every day, from the weather to the result of a given game. And that’s just the beginning. With the release of iOS10 in September, Siri will become even more “intelligent”, moving from being a closed system to an open one: if until now Siri was only integrated with a few dozen services, with iOS10 Apple opens Siri to all apps, making it much more effective and useful for consumers but also reducing, increasingly, the need to search elsewhere, on Google, information that the virtual assistant can find for us in comfort.
The fact that Siri does not have a graphical interface, that is, a web page where to go to do the search, does not matter. The future are search engines with which we converse in natural language. Just like Siri, which is already present on iPhone, AppleTV and Apple Watch and will soon arrive on Mac, Google Now or Alexa. And as the future draws nearer, faster than we think, Apple is preparing to govern it, enriching its Siri with data and sources that make it richer, more useful, more indispensable, so that Google is a little less.
Apple is building a search engine. And as the best of magicians, it is doing so under our noses.