There has been a lot of tweets and rumors about Apple launching a search engine and SEO Twitter is all buzzing about whether or not Apple will create a new search engine and how it will be or when it will launch. The thing is, it’s already out there and many of us use it every day.
Spotlight Search has been available on both iOS and MacOS since 2005 (source). If you have a Mac, click on the magnifying glass at the top of the screen and search. Depending on your preferences set, one of the results options you will get is “Siri Recommended Websites”.
Where Spotlight gets its data for search results
While we don’t have complete information on how Siri gets its results, it is likely to collect data from:
- Use of the Safari browser
- Applebot web crawls
- Apple maps
- Feeds from trusted partners like Wolfram Alpha, Wikipedia, Youtube, etc.
- Other Apple apps
Data is taken from these sources to produce different types of search results which may include:
Siri recommended by Siri
Siri Suggested Websites is an optional feature in Safari that provides auto-completed suggestions based on what the user starts typing in the browser’s search bar.
Where the data comes from: Siri Suggestions in Safari take advantage of your browsing history, bookmarks, and open websites, but they can also use your location, topics of interest, tips you’ve selected, apps you use, and device usage data for Apple.
Apple Maps is the default web and GPS mapping service system of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, and watchOS. When Spotlight thinks the queries have a local intent, you’ll likely see a map result.
Where the data comes from: Historically Apple has used TomTom, OpenStreetMap, Weather Channel, and other as data sources, since its launch in 2012, because those services still provide data in certain markets but are building their own navigation framework in the United States. We estimate there are probably at least 71 million Apple Maps users only in the United States.
Acquaintance with Siri
Siri Knowledge is a feature that uses a combination of data automatically extracted from all the built-in apps on your Apple device, including Mail, Messages, Maps, and Safari.
Where the data comes from: As you can see with this result they are using third parties trusted partners like Wikipedia to populate search results within Spotlight.
Spotlight will also show relevant music files in search results, especially if they are files already in your Apple Music library while the Apple Music app also generates additional results.
Where the data comes from: Files from your device in the case of Spotlight. However, when you sign up Apple Music collects information how you use Apple Music to customize features according to your musical tastes.
These features include Listen Now, where you can see your chosen albums and playlists, and Radio, which plays selections from your favorite artists and genres.
They also use this information so they can contact you via email and push notifications about upcoming releases, new artists, and other Apple Music events that you may like.
For most customers, they keep this data for a retention period of at least 10 years, but in regions like China that can be up to 30 years.
Searches for public figures, events or current affairs can also display news articles.
Where the data comes from: News results are taken from the web and are generally aggregated into Apple News. The Apple News app works by pulling news from the web via various syndication feeds (Atom and RSS) or from news publishing partners via the descriptive Apple News JSON format. News is retrieved from publishers’ websites via the AppleBot web crawler bot. The bot retrieves feeds as well as web pages and images for the Apple News service.
Additionally, the Spotlight SERPs will contain movies and TV shows from Apple TV.
Where does the data come from: Apple collects information about purchases, downloads, activities in the Apple TV app, content you watch, and where you watch it in the Apple TV app and connected apps on any supported device. We use this information to provide the service and to improve the Apple TV app for you and others.
Apple uses information about the movies and TV shows you purchase and download to serve ads to ensure that App Store ads, Apple news and stock, where available, are relevant to you.
Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi estimated this Apple had advertising revenue of around $ 4 billion in the 2021 calendar, compared to an estimated $ 300 million in 2017. Most of this comes from ads in the App Store with a smaller amount from display ads on Apple News.
Just as it sounds, related searches show associated searches from the Finder or the web.
Where does the data come from: The data for these results is likely drawn from the use of your Safari browser like yours browsing history, bookmarks, open websites, etc.
Of course, these aren’t the only types of search result categories you might see in Spotlight. For example, you may also see local files such as Events and reminders, Spreadsheets, Papersetc. but these are some of the main categories we will focus on.
How does Applebot work?
Earlier, we said Apple is likely to be using Applebot’s web crawls as a resource for knowing what to show users, so ask the questions:
What exactly is Applebot? And how does it work?
Applebot is the web crawler for Apple. Products like Siri and Spotlight Suggestions use Applebot. Basically, this is Apple’s way of indexing the content of websites on the Internet so that those websites can appear in search results.
According to Apple, Search Apple can take the following into account when ranking web search results:
- Aggregate engagement of users with search results
- Relevance and correspondence of search terms with topics and contents of the web page
- Number and quality of links from other web pages
- Signals based on your location (approximate data)
- Features of the web page design
“Siri uses local processing on the device to learn how you use your devices and apps in order to personalize your experience. Using information stored on your device, such as Safari browsing history, emails, messages, images, notifications and contacts, as well as information donated or provided by other installed apps, Siri can suggest shortcuts and provide suggestions in searches, share sheets, calendar, Look Up, Visual Look Up, Safari, apps and more.
It also goes on to mention that your device may send additional information to Apple such as:
- Topics of interest (e.g. cooking or basketball)
- Your search queries (including visual search queries)
- Tips you have selected
- App you use
- Data relating to the use of the device
This implies, and in some cases explicitly states, that Apple is storing this information to refine the functionality of Spotlight and improve the user experience.
Why would Apple risk $ 9 billion from Google to create this?
As of 2014, Apple switched from Microsoft’s Bing to Google for iOS on its mobile devices, such as the iPhone, and was paid $ 1 billion at the time, which increased to $ 3 billion by 2017 because it was the default search engine used by Siri on iOS. (source)
Bernstein analyst AM Sacconaghi Jr. said Google alone could account for 5% of Apple’s total operating profits in 2017 and could account for up to 25% of the company’s total OP growth over 2015-2017. (source)
The court documents also revealed that the revenue Google shares with Apple represented approximately 15-20% of Apple’s worldwide net profit. Furthermore, Google estimates that, in 2019 alone, nearly 50 percent of its search traffic came from Apple devices. (source)
By 2020, the New York Times reported that Apple received about $ 8-12 billion annually in exchange for Google being the default search on its devices. (source)
What Apple Search could plan for the future
So what is Apple going to do?
Only time will tell, but they are likely to keep Google as the filler for most queries for the money, but continue to improve their results by skimming some of the most valuable queries from Google (e.g. health, entertainment, finance, etc.)
Some, like Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi, have suggested that Apple’s search engine, Spotlight, and the associated user data it is collecting could be used to position themselves to sell ads or create an advertising platform.
However, there are reasons to be skeptical. Apple’s failure with iAd it could make them averse to pursuing another advertising platform, even though they are likely to continue selling ads in the app store.
Another consideration is that the company’s values relating to user privacy could be subjected to a thorough scrutiny if they adopt that course of action.
For now, they are moving forward with Spotlight optimization by building its functionality and independence to generate more useful search results across all of their devices and counting the money bags Google is paying them to own a larger share of the search market. .