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Which search engine should be crowned king of Mobile Safari?

Susie Ochs | Nov. 28, 2014
In the search engine game, it's all about eyeballs. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft rake in billions each year from search ads, and now those companies are competing to be the default search engine in Mobile Safari on your iPhone and iPad.

In the search engine game, it's all about eyeballs. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft rake in billions each year from search ads, and now those companies are competing to be the default search engine in Mobile Safari on your iPhone and iPad.

Until now it's always been Google, but according to a report in The Information (subscription required), that deal expires in 2015. Its sources say Apple's Eddy Cue has entertained pitches from both Yahoo and Microsoft, maker of Bing. Currently, Bing actually powers Yahoo's search in return for a cut of its ad revenue, although Yahoo and Bing do compete to get your eyeballs in the first place. Bing is used by both Siri on iOS and Spotlight on your Mac.

Changing the default

Being the default search engine for millions of iOS devices is a big deal. Most people probably don't bother changing the default, but it is possible: Open up Settings > Safari, and the very first option is Search Engine. Tap that to switch from Google, the default, to either Yahoo, Bing, or privacy-friendly DuckDuckGo (a new option in iOS 8).

You're still able to navigate to any search engine, of course. The default search engine is what Safari will use when you type your search query directly into the Search/URL bar at the top.

Putting them to the test

To get a sense of how different those search engines actually are, I ran three searches with each. I searched the term "Yosemite," as well as "San Leandro pizza" for some local interest, and of course "Taylor Swift," because who can get enough?

Yosemite: Google returned an ad for Apple's latest OS as the first result, followed by a Maps result for Yosemite National Park. The next three results were also for the park: Its home page, its Wikipedia entry, and the official guide to lodging and activities. Apple's Yosemite page is next, followed by news results, images, and "in-depth articles" from sources like National Geographic, Outside, and Ars Technica. Pretty comprehensive, and definitely well organized — I especially like how all of these sections can be expanded for more results.

Yahoo put Apple's Yosemite page first, but a tiny dollar-sign icon gives this away as an ad — I nearly had to squint to see it. Next is the site for Evergreen Lodge inside Yosemite National Park, which wasn't even on Google's first page of results (it's shaded like an ad but missing the dollar sign). That's followed by the National Park Service site, but the Plan Your Visit section, not the more generic landing page that Google returned. Unlike Google, Yahoo didn't return a map, but did return plenty of photos, and also videos from YouTube and ABC News. (Yes, it's kind of weird that Yahoo gave me YouTube videos but Google didn't.)

 

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