Currently, search is dominated by Google. When people need to search, well over 70% of the time they go to Google. No real news there- everyone knows that Google rules. Nobody else is even close.
The Winds of Change
That being said, a battle is brewing that will shake up the search landscape. A war that will open up the door to new competition. It will get a little ugly during this war, but in the end, we’ll enjoy more diverse options in search. That’s a good thing. Key players in the war will include Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft & Facebook. Additionally, I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two others enter the fray.
Four Epic Battles Are Coming
There are four battlefronts that this war will be fought on. Google has a good foothold in each of these, but is also vulnerable. I would be very surprised if they fought all four of these battles without losing marketshare. These battles include fights over mobile, a new emerging internal-net, growth of voice assistants, and upcoming heightened privacy concerns. We’ll take a brief look at each.
Battle 1: Personal Mobile Devices
Mobile searches now account for more than computer based searches do, and this trend towards mobile will just escalate over the next few years. Search here is still dominated by Google, but Apple is poised well for this emerging shift, and because they control what goes on their devices, they has some opportunity here to play a bigger role in the mobile search experience.
Apple is starting to show strong signs that they want to distance themselves from the Google mobile search and introduce their own options. They included DuckDuckGo as a search option and Bing as the default Spotlight search for now. With Google being reduced to the default browser search only. As Apple’s Spotlight and Siri grow, they will make for powerful weapons moving forward. You better believe they will be trying to leverage their mobile following to a) increasingly control the mobile search experience and b) lessen the power Google has in mobile search.
Battle 2: Personal Internal-Net Search
The more we interact with the internet the more of a personal Internal-Net (trademark pending) we are creating. Every time we send a text message, email or interact with an app, we are growing this personal reservoir of data. As our personal database becomes larger, we’ll want it included with more and more of our mobile searches. We’ll want to search our data as much as the data from the internet.
Think of the last time you scrolled through your text messages, pictures, or emails for a piece of information. Maybe a phone number, or link that someone shared with you. This is all part of your Internal-Net. Stuff you care about that you’ve interacted with in the past. This stuff sometimes can be more important to you than what can be found on the vast, anonymous internet. This reservoir is growing all the time and the longer you interact with the internet the better resource it will be for you in the future.
For example, imagine a world where you’re looking for the phone number to a trustworthy plumber. You think you remember someone telling you about a good company they used, but you’re not sure. You do a search on your phone and it combs through your text messages, email, voicemails, photos, DM’s, social interactions as well as the entire internet to find you the most helpful answer. Turns out the plumber you’re looking for is one that worked on your sister’s basement and she mentioned him on Facebook several months ago. At the time you asked her about him and she sent you his number over a text message. Your phone’s search brings up a) your FB interaction with your sister, complete with pictures and pricing that she posted then, b) the text message she sent with his phone number, c) the local map from the internet with his location and hours d) reviews that your friends and family have left for him that reside in your Yelp app and e) pictures you took of your plumbing problem, ready for you to send over to him.
That’s the type of robust and personalized search experience that’s coming, and soon! You don’t have to scroll through 10 different search results and visit tons of different webpages, like a caveman from 2015. You’ll be presented with the perfect answer, blending your always growing internal-net with the existing internet.
Google will battle with Apple, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Amazon, Yahoo, LinkedIn and a bunch of other platforms to be able to provide you these types of tailored answers. They’ll be looking to cut data-sharing deals with each other to make this multi-layered search possible. All these companies will be battling it out, making Google vulnerable as we transition to this new level of search.
Battle 3: Personal Voice Assistants
As speech and context recognition technology continues to get better, people will gravitate more towards a voice assistant over typing out their queries. This will be an increasingly popular search interface over the next 2-3 years. As it’s a brand new experience, those services that can do it well will lessen the number of people going to Google.com to find answers. Instead they’ll just speak up and ask their questions and get their answer read or displayed for them.
Google has a really good voice assistant, but so does Apple with Siri, Microsoft with Cortana, and Amazon with Echo. Searching the internet will only be one feature that a good voice assistant offers, rather than being a stand alone service. A voice assistant that can search your internal-net, the internet, play music and videos, set appointments, type messages and emails, make phone calls, turn off lights, unlock doors, turn on cars, and make purchases is an assistant that will reduce the number of times you potentially do a Google search.
I’ve seen this first hand in my life. A year ago, I only used Siri to show it off to friends and entertain my kids with some of her sassy replies. But now, I use Siri multiple times every day, and even more since I got my Apple Watch (caution: homer alert!). The accuracy is getting better all the time, and I can see in 2-3 years that I’ll be using it for the majority of my queries and requests. This presents Apple, Amazon and Microsoft with some serious opportunity moving forward.
Battle 4: Personal Privacy Concerns
When it comes to privacy, Google has a problem with their entire business model. They need to sell ads, so they need your information. Facebook has this same problem, while Apple doesn’t have this model or as much of this problem.
You may retort, “People don’t care about privacy, stupid!”. In large part, I’d agree. People will give up all kinds of personal data to have ad-driven free stuff. However, this is going to change for three reasons.
First, nobody can make you want something you don’t even know you want like Apple can. Their business model supports a more private approach, and they are the best storytellers on the planet. They can make people want their privacy. They will try to make privacy a major feature in all their products and services and in so doing, take a little more of the search marketshare from Google.
Second, as search gets more personal, and private data is intertwined with the public internet (as I argued above), the value of our personal privacy and security will be more clear and in our face. When our personal results are intertwined with our search results, our eyes will be opened to the need. People will get more creeped out if they see personalized ads next to their personalized search results that includes very personal information. Apple will be able to leverage this to make a stronger case for their private and closed ecosystem. If Apple can make us feel our experience is customized enough, while our data is private, they may have a very nice story to tell.
Third, the media loves drama and loves cool technology. They will be pumping out tech privacy stories like never before. At some point, with all the private data floating around, an event or series of highly publicized events will help stoke our fears about privacy. If there is one thing I feel confident in, it is that people respond to fear. The media will be pumping it, Apple will be pumping it, and our personalized search results will be putting the issue right in front of our faces all the time. That’s a formula for changing public perception about privacy.
Apple is not without some hurdles here also, but they have a business model that will help them gather some data, encrypt it on the phone, and tell us how it never sees their servers or a 3rd party advertiser. They will still get our search experience personalized enough, all while touting privacy and security. They can do this easier because their business model is simply posed to tackle privacy better than Google’s.
My Crazy Prediction
I’m going to make a very bold prediction: within 5 years, Google will have a decline from over 70% marketshare of search to less than 35%. That’s cut in half! Instead of solely dominating the field, our answer finding will be spread out over many different companies and platforms.
I’m also going against the grain here and predicting that Apple will be the big surprise in the search space, if you hadn’t guessed that by now. Even though Google has the edge in the number of signals it can analyze, and in the quality of their cloud services, based on the four battles I outlined above I think Google has a lot of ground to give. With so many critical battles, they’ll never be able to win them all. Plus, if a battle ever gets really close, Apple still has its crazy sex-appeal. With search getting more personal on all fronts, this just may be the tie-breaker when a battle gets close.
Google will remain a big player here for the foreseeable future. However, search will be more mobile, voice activated, internal, private, and we’ll have more options and competition from others. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy watching some big players battle it out.