While I was browsing Techmeme today, I came across Louis Gray’s opinion piece about the recent report in BusinessWeek that Apple and Microsoft are in discussions to make Bing the default search engine on the iPhone (and possibly even the Mac).
Even with the increased competition, Google never flipped the switch that Microsoft once did, turning “evil”. Whether it’s assumed Apple and Google are best friends at this point is not as important as the two companies making the right choices for consumers.
Going back to the BusinessWeek article, the main focus is that Apple is looking to make Bing the default search engine on the iPhone, which would reduce, only mildly, some exposure to Google Search, and would help Microsoft more as their improving search engine is in the hands of iPhone fans everywhere. But this could be a humungous case of sour grapes, poised to no doubt leave a bad taste in our mouths. And we’ve seen it play out before.
In 2010, moving to Bing would be perceived in the same light. While Bing has its fans, and I know some great people who work on the engine, the assumption from users is that Google is the gold standard in search. If Apple sells its customers short in what is perceived as a second class product, it erodes the customers’ trust, and perception of quality from what’s supposed to be a premium mobile experience. Even if Bing is twice as good as Google, no handful of on-stage demos from Steve Jobs and his team is going to make people think there’s more to the story than Apple playing favorites.
From my view, Google is as concerned with Facebook and Microsoft as it is with Apple. If Apple is going after Google with Bing as a revenge play, then we customers are pawns being forced to accept embedding of products we didn’t request. That very thing is what was at the heart of the DOJ’s case against Microsoft in the late 1990s, and has me feeling less inclined to trust Apple, not more so.
Apple has gained a loyal customer base through focusing on best of breed, even if it costs a little bit more. From Apple, I should be able to assume a higher quality product, and something that reflects real worth. Bing is good, the very best Microsoft has ever offered in search, but backroom shenanigans dealt out due to hurt feelings or assumed alliances is wrong, no matter what. I don’t think Apple and Google are going after each other’s throats right now, and if so, Google is thinking about Apple less than Apple is thinking of them, so making a move because of enemies’ rank is just ridiculous. It’s not 1997 any more, and I have alternatives.
I’ve been following Louis’ blog for a while already, and I generally agree with his spot-on takes on the ebb and flow within the social media industry.
However, I think he’s flat out wrong in this one.
Louis makes three assumptions, which I believe are incorrect:
Assumption #1 – Google is assumed to be the gold standard of search by the users.
I would ask how one is able to draw this conclusion. The reality is that the gold standard for search is different for everyone. You will always be able to find users who believe Bing returns better results for them and suits their needs better, just like you would be able to do the same for Google.
So how else would one assume that Google is the gold standard in search? By market share? That may sound fair, but does that mean that Louis, as a self-proclaimed Mac fan, believes that Windows is the gold standard of operating systems by the users?
Is Bing’s market share really a reflection of its usefulness to users relative to Google, or is it because of market inertia and perhaps the fact that many people just haven’t felt the need to try Bing before? And if it’s the latter, why is “marketing” Bing to a wider audience such a bad thing? Especially since of that wider audience, a portion of them will decide that Bing is the better search engine for their own purposes.
Assumption #2 – Consumers are hurt because of Apple embedding products that they don’t want.
Louis forgot that the user always has the option to switch to another search provider (on both the iPhone and Mac versions of Safari) if they wanted. Choice is always good for the consumer, isn’t it?
Is Google hurting consumers by bundling Avast! Free Antivirus with Google Pack instead of Microsoft Security Essentials, whom AV Comparatives rates as the best-performing free antivirus program available?
Assumption #3 – “Backroom shenanigans” dealt out due to hurt feelings or assumed alliances is wrong.
Realistically, as pundits and outside observers, we don’t know at this point whether this deal is driven by revenge or sour grapes or is it really strictly a business move.
Frankly speaking, so what if this whole thing is about corporate gamesmanship? Didn’t Apple form an alliance with Google for many years and leverage on each other to compete against Microsoft and the rest of the world? Was that wrong?
And if working out partnerships and marketing agreements equates to “backroom shenanigans”, then basically every company in the world conducts shady business. Which of course it’s not, silly. Because all companies have the right to explore and pursue different partnerships to help grow their business. This is capitalism and the free market at work; there’s nothing to see here.
If Apple and Microsoft happen to strike a deal because it made business sense for them, I don’t think anyone can fault them for that – especially since the deal will bring more choice to consumers. (Can I use Bing from the iPhone web browser today?)
Lastly, it’s interesting that Louis made the observation that Google has not turned “evil” yet. Honestly, I don’t like labels like “evil” or “non-evil”, because no one can really define where one stops and the other starts. But perhaps Louis can find out more about HungryGoWhere’s Google encounter for an alternative viewpoint. (Hint: search for “survival and promotion”)