The Future Of Search and Apples Possible Role
Search is improving slowly through iteration. For many. ‘search’ is synonymous with ‘Google’ that means if Google doesn’t advance, search doesn’t advance. Luckily Google is always improving, unluckily monopolies stifle innovation. This is especially true when anything innovative is purchased and the functions added to the monopolist. Just look at how Microsoft bought and incorporated any competitors into Word. Speaking of Microsoft we have seen them try and buy their way into search with Bing. Bing is, for the most part, an inferior product that loses Microsoft billions of dollars a year. It is rumoured it will turn a small profit in 2016 but it cost them a lot of money to get there. (I tried to switch to Bing for a few days and was frustrated with the answers for almost every search I made.) So if direct competition isn’t feasible how can we break Google’s search dominance? I think the answer lies with Apple, Siri, and Spotlight. Apple has the customer base to really change up the search game by making Apple Search the default for all their address bars. Apple Search wouldn’t be another Google clone but use multiple different search engines and package it all together in a cohesive way like Siri does today. They also have the money to invest heavily in these 3rd party companies to get them the skilled engineers they need to take on Google. They have the cash to purchase these companies but I think investing in partners would be the best approach. They have to replace the things that keep us tied to Google if they want it to succeed, though.
- Google allows you to search multiple types of things from sites, to images, to news, etc. That functionality has to be replicated but could be done in a new way, with multiple search engines all working together seamlessly.
- It is familiar, people say let me Google that for you. A wholesale shift from Google to another service would be a psychological problem for many people. So I think the Siri approach should be taken and not show the search engines that are being used.
- Google is the king of search for a reason. When it launched it blew everything else out of the water and it has been improving ever since. It’s not an easy task for competitors to replicate the accuracy of Google. I have tried other various services over the years namely Bing and DuckDuckGo and they were inferior products. They can usually get the job done but you still have to go to Google for some searches so why bother using them? (DuckDuckGo has gotten much better and will continue to now that Apple has made it one of the built in search providers for Safari in iOS 8 and OSX Yosemite. Side not: I wish DuckDuckGo was trying to popularize ‘just Duck it’.) Apple and it’s partners have to at least equal Google’s performance, not an easy task. If Apple decides to do this they will need to invest large amounts of capital into these companies to help them improve.
Search: Where It Is And Where It Is Going
Searching the web in the last decade has resulted in a list of relevant links. It works pretty well but this doesn’t suit all search queries, such as questions with a definitive answer. Google has realized this and that is why it is implementing ‘cards’ along with search results that will hopefully give you the answer to what you were looking for. It’s a great advancement and it will only get better.
There are still times you want a bunch of results but I see this becoming more curated and tailored to your specific personality. For example, if I searched for an iPhone dock I’d see minimalistic docks first.
If Apple used it’s enormous wealth and strategic partnerships it could accomplish both in a new, superior way. Search will be a misnomer for the most part in the future. You will ask and it will answer. For the most part only Google is advancing this idea on the desktop. (Siri and Cortana both try and answer your questions on mobile.)
Why Would Apple Want To Do This?
Apple doesn’t like Google. Steve Jobs famously said he was going to ”go thermonuclear” on Google with lawsuits over what he felt was a stolen product (Android). I should note that they may be softening on their Google hate. They agreed to stop suing each other and Apple mentioned Google Search a couple times in the 2014 WWDC keynote. Regardless I think this would be a smart move for Apple and good for computing in general. Even if they used Google as a partner for what I am describing here could be an amazing advance in the functionality of search.
Apple Has Not Been Good With Search
Apple’s search efforts have not been great. While they do need to put some resources into improving their in-house search I think they were on the right track when it came to searching with Siri. Siri packages different services in one unified UI. This has such huge potential I think they should bring it to both of the iOS and OSX versions of Safaris search bar and keep improving Spotlight.
What Apple Search Would Have To Be To Succeed
“You come at the king, you best not miss.” - Omar, The Wire
Apple search has to be awesome, it has to make people not even miss Google. It has to:
Making a Google clone is wrongheaded and will most likely fail. I could see Apple using Googles' cards UI but making it much more useful by integrating other services.
It has got to return what the user is looking for. Since Apple is using 3rd party search engines, investing money and engineers in these companies would be the only way to accomplish this.
Flawlessly use a number of different search engines.
It has to meld results from different search engines into one cohesive UI. This cohesive view shouldn’t be limited by traditional mentality of search results.
Use The Best Features Of The 3rd Party Search Engines
Notice the address bar at the top, I took the UI from Pinterest that allows you to narrow down what you are searching for.
It Learns From You
As computers learn from us they can learn our likes and dislikes in a number of ways. Apple could use this data to show you the results best suited to you. Showing you the results you want can be damaging. (You can get a smaller more narrow minded view of the world if all results agree with you.) However I think this has potential in matters of style, taste, and probability. If I am searching for ‘Sunrise’ I probably want the app. If I am searching for iPhone docks, I probably want a minimalistic one.
I avoid Cnet.com (not even going to link it) because they turned download.com from a trusted Mac software downloading site into a haven of crap-ware downloads. I don’t want to see Cnet results in my searches. I do however want to see things from sites like Arstechnica or Cultofmac, so these results could be given priority.
What Happens When You Use Apple Search
If Your Query has one result
You are presented with the answer and at the bottom a scrollable list of search results. Similar to Google but with more emphasis on the answer.
If Your Answer Has Multiple Right Answers
You are presented with a list of possible answers and resources. This is what I think has the most potential for making search better. A list of sources that all have the answer but in different ways. So if I search for ‘How to batch re-name files on a Mac’ I would see:
‘How to rename multiple files at the same time’
- Cult of Mac
Popular Apps that can do this:
How to do this with built in functionality
While this has the potential to be abused I still think this is how search results should be displayed. Smaller sites would need to be included with the top results.
Spotlight in iOS 8 and OSX Yosemite
With the announcement of iOS8 and OSX Yosemite Apple has shown that Spotlight could become similar to what I am proposing here. It is basically taking Siri’s searching functionality and adding it to Spotlight. While I think this is very promising I still think that my ideas have merit, especially considering the fact that most users will not think ‘Spotlight’ when they think of web search. The ideas above in conjunction with Apples’ new Spotlight search has much more potential than Spotlight alone.
This Is Even More Important On Mobile Devices With Smaller Screens
Getting the answer to what you are looking for is more important on mobile. What I want are:
Public Apple ID’s
I think it would be interesting if bloggers, journalists, and tech web sites could have public Apple ID’s. What I mean by this is they could add the public ID to their phones and it would show in real time what their most used apps are. So if you search for ‘Daring Fireball email app’ it shows you the one he uses the most as well as ones he’s tried. With links to anything he has said about each one.
When you search for ’top 10 iOS apps’ you see a list of current top 10’s from various sites. With Apple Search you could curate the results and have special App Store curations as well as relevant lists from around the web. You could even have options like ‘unusual choices’ or ‘long standing’. They could even show how many top 10 lists a particular app was on.
New UI For Results On Mobile
iOS is very list centric but that doesn’t mean Apple has to display search results from Safari, Siri or Spotlight in a static list. It could have swipe-able results that make perusing a better experience on the touch screen. The results should suit the type of data. Using my ‘top 10 iOS apps’ query as an example on the iPhone. You could have a list of cards for each app in the list, swipe them away to dismiss them, press on them to get more info (like reviews from various sources), and have an option to erase the apps you already have. Or even the ability to swipe the whole list over and go to the next one from a different source with all previously seen apps already dismissed.
Or searching for photos: You search for ‘pictures of dogs’ and get a list of pictures. Pinterest’s Guided Search let’s you narrow down by type. Or you could press on a picture and have results that are closer to that picture.
Or controversial opinions: You could get both sides of the argument but weighted towards the side the most experts in the field agree is right. For example ‘How old is the Earth?’ would show the mountains of evidence saying it is 4.5 billion years old but might also show that some people think the Earth is 5000 years old but all scientific evidence concludes they are incorrect. Or ‘Should I vaccinate my children?’ would return a single word “Yes!”. While a summation could be done with an algorithm it would show all the sources it uses to come to that conclusion.
Search will soon give you the answer for what you need; not just a bunch of results. Apple could help facilitate this change while stealing profits from Google and making the experience better for their customers. The upside for them is huge but will they do it? It will take an enormous amount of money and work but it could deal a big blow to its biggest competitor. I sincerely hope they see the advantages I listed above and act on them.