Apple briefly considered buying Bing from Microsoft to replace Google search on iPhone

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 4,165   +1,419
Staff member
TL;DR: Information from the Google antitrust trial is flowing again now that the judge ruled that the Justice Department can resume publicly posting evidentiary documents. One of the latest tidbits from the hearing is that Microsoft recently tried to sell Apple its Bing search engine.

Bloomberg notes that executives from Microsoft tried to cut a deal with former Apple Services VP Eddie Cue to buy Bing in 2020. If the deal had gone through, Cupertino would likely have canceled or refused to renew its long-standing contract to keep Google the default search engine on its devices.

Unfortunately for Microsoft, the talks fizzled out in the early phase, which is no surprise. Bing's market share is much less attractive than Google's 90 percent slice of the pie. Apple was already collecting an estimated $19 billion per year from Alphabet without the extra hassle of maintaining a search engine.

Buying Bing didn't make good business sense, so the talks never moved out of the "exploratory stages."

Bing has never caught any traction since Microsoft unveiled it in 2009, and for good reason. As one who tried to move to Bing to get away from Google, I was unimpressed and unsatisfied with Bing's search results in the early days. It may have improved over the years, but first impressions are the most lasting, and the stats prove it.

Bing is the second-place search engine worldwide, but the gap between first and second is an ocean. As of August 2023, StatCounter lists Google as holding 91.85 percent of the search engine market to Bing's 3.02 percent.

Despite Bing's measly standing, testimony from Microsoft's chief of advertising and web services, Mikhail Parakhin, revealed that Apple was able to use Bing to leverage more money from Alphabet under the threat that it would make it the default on more than 2 billion devices, which includes 1.65 billion iPhones.

Whether this information helps or hurts the Justice Department's case is hard to say. On the one hand, it demonstrates that if a giant like Microsoft could not compete with Google, how could smaller search engines like DuckDuckGo? On the other, it illustrates that competition within the market does exist to the extent that Apple could use Bing as a bargaining chip. If no choice existed, Alphabet could have told Apple to take a hike when it asked for a larger revenue share.

Permalink to story.

 
Given the financial incentives from Google, I completely understand Apple passing on the purchase of Bing. But the market share argument is strange. What does market share have to do with the effectiveness of the engine? It's just habit/preference, which is a similar reason for why Internet Explorer dominated the market for many years after it was rendered obsolete.

I agree with your assessment of the quality of Bing searches. I tried to leave Google a bunch of years ago and went back. Now things have changed dramatically. Bing + OpenAI gives much better results than Google for detailed queries. YMMV and I still use Google maps on the desktop, though Apple maps are better on mobile.
 
Given the financial incentives from Google, I completely understand Apple passing on the purchase of Bing. But the market share argument is strange. What does market share have to do with the effectiveness of the engine? It's just habit/preference, which is a similar reason for why Internet Explorer dominated the market for many years after it was rendered obsolete.

I agree with your assessment of the quality of Bing searches. I tried to leave Google a bunch of years ago and went back. Now things have changed dramatically. Bing + OpenAI gives much better results than Google for detailed queries. YMMV and I still use Google maps on the desktop, though Apple maps are better on mobile.

I think we're mostly in the same boat, except for your points on the current state of Bing and market share. I have not retried Bing since attempting to move to it years ago. It sounds like maybe I should give it another chance. What could it hurt? I'll either change my tune on it, or I won't.

The point I was trying to make regarding market share is that in the beginning, Bing sucked, so it could not claw much market share from Google. It mostly took users from the smaller browsers. For a while, I recall Google owning mid- to high 80s percent of the market, but it's over 90 now. And I agree that probably the majority of that 90 percent use Google out of habit. People avoid change. They don't like asking, "Where's my cheese?" This is precisely why being the default search on many devices is advantageous. But I digress.

Microsoft wanted to sell Bing to Apple. Apple was already in a very lucrative deal with Google. So Cue looked at the logistics. Assuming all other things equal, which would be better--making Bing our default with its tiny market share of users or staying with Google, which has almost all the search engine traffic? The choice is clear, regardless of whether traffic is habitual or not. And when you add in the other factors like maintaining the engine and fighting to take more of the pie, Google was just the better business decision and would be for years and years even if Bing were to start climbing that hill.
 
I think we're mostly in the same boat, except for your points on the current state of Bing and market share. I have not retried Bing since attempting to move to it years ago. It sounds like maybe I should give it another chance. What could it hurt? I'll either change my tune on it, or I won't.

The point I was trying to make regarding market share is that in the beginning, Bing sucked, so it could not claw much market share from Google. It mostly took users from the smaller browsers. For a while, I recall Google owning mid- to high 80s percent of the market, but it's over 90 now. And I agree that probably the majority of that 90 percent use Google out of habit. People avoid change. They don't like asking, "Where's my cheese?" This is precisely why being the default search on many devices is advantageous. But I digress.

Microsoft wanted to sell Bing to Apple. Apple was already in a very lucrative deal with Google. So Cue looked at the logistics. Assuming all other things equal, which would be better--making Bing our default with its tiny market share of users or staying with Google, which has almost all the search engine traffic? The choice is clear, regardless of whether traffic is habitual or not. And when you add in the other factors like maintaining the engine and fighting to take more of the pie, Google was just the better business decision and would be for years and years even if Bing were to start climbing that hill.
Yeah, good points Cal. There's definitely a risk that if Apple had bought Bing for their search, users would have been unhappy enough with it to revert to Google. I was just thinking that if Apple bought Bing they probably would have rebranded it as Apple Search or something and used their walled garden advantages to keep most users there.

If you use the regular Bing search box, then Google is still superior. But if you're willing to play with the OpenAI integrated search, it offers more detailed and accurate results in exchange for speed.
 
Yeah, good points Cal. There's definitely a risk that if Apple had bought Bing for their search, users would have been unhappy enough with it to revert to Google. I was just thinking that if Apple bought Bing they probably would have rebranded it as Apple Search or something and used their walled garden advantages to keep most users there.
Yeah, that seems logical.
 
I still prefer Google. I use Edge a lot, but I absolutely hate Bing. I've done side-by-side searches and Google always gets it right. Bing sometimes makes it hard to get to the info you're looking for. I can't explain it, but I just prefer Google, though I do like that MS has a reward plan and I have used that to redeem for Amazon gift cards, but outside of that Google all the way.
 
They probably realised that, once it was installed on a computer, you could never remove it.
 
Back