Apple Pushing to Launch Search Engine to Rival Google

Apple is working on an online search engine to rival Google amid wider improvements to Spotlight search, according to a recent report from The Information.

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The report explains that Apple's work on search technology is facing setbacks amid a loss of talent to Google. In 2018, Apple sought to bolster development of its own web search engine by buying machine learning startup Laserlike, which was founded by three former Google search engineers. The company's technology recommended websites based on a user's interests and browsing history. Now, Laserlike's founders have reportedly returned to Google.

Apple's search team is believed to contain at least 200 employees and powers the technology behind Spotlight, Siri Suggestions, and answers provided by ‌Siri‌. The team is still at least four years away from launching an outright replacement to Google search, according to one person involved with the team speaking to The Information. While Google pays Apple around $15 billion per year to stay as the default search engine on Apple devices, Apple developing an in-house rival to Google search could increase its leverage during its periodic negotiations with Google over the deal.

In the meanwhile, Apple has apparently discussed using the technology it has built to power search for Apple Music and the App Store. Apple currently uses this search technology to generate data for Apple teams developing apps that use natural language processing, such as the Translate app, and to use tweets to determine newsworthy events that should show up in results and recommend Apple News articles – but it can be used more widely in the future. One of the search team's immediate priorities is said to be improving Spotlight so that it can handle "100 times more" queries than it does today.

The idea of an Apple search engine has been speculated since at least 2015, when Apple first confirmed its Applebot and posted a series of search-related job listings, and rumors around the eventual launch of service have resurfaced periodically.