Apple: Local Search Embedded in Spotlight as a Default – Can it Move the Needle?

More than one ambitious player in local has joined the walking dead in their battle with Google.

Google has long been the top dog in local search. Along the way they bested IYPs, Driving Direction sites and Mapping companies. Google left more than a few, like CitySearch and Yahoo Local, among the walking dead and severely limited the growth options for the likes of  the Groupons and Navteqs of the world. They have gone mano a mano to all comers.

It isn’t clear that this has resulted in great income but it has resulted in their dominant position in the local search market. And has put them in a position to send significant traffic to local merchants.

Mac Yosemite Desktop Local Search via Spotlight

Recently though there have been a number of orthogonal “attacks” on Google’s long dominant position in the local market. Apps and the on demand marketplaces have become high growth areas and potentially threaten Google’s place in Local.

And Amazon seems very interested in local. They have created a “local services” marketplace, are experimenting with local grocery deliveries and have developed a Grubhub local take out competitor.

But what about direct competitors in the space?

Facebook has rapidly become a dominant review site but seems to have otherwise ignored local search even when it would be obvious to include it.

iOS8 Spotlight Local Search
iOS8 Spotlight Local Search surfaces both places and apps as well as web searches from Bing.

Apple on the other hand has been making a slow, glacial move on mainstream local search. When Apple released Maps in September, 2012 there were high hopes for their aggressive entrée into Local but the Apple Maps fiasco seemed to push Apple into stealth mode in local search.

It also pushed Apple into serious fix it mode and I doubt that they have the desire to confront that s%$t storm again in Local search.

But recently we have seen some movement on the local search  front. Apple opened up to direct submissions of business listings, expanded their local business data partnerships significantly to improve data quality, appears to have created an inside Mapping project as well and rolled out Apple Pay.

But their most recent move, again in stealth, seems to me more significant long haul and has the potential to significantly impact Google’s monopoly in local search: baking local search into their mobile AND desktop OS Spotlight search function.

iOS 8 was released to consumers in mid September and Yosemite, Apple’s new desktop OS  was released on October 16, 2014. Both have local search available directly from the OS and make local search the same familiar process as looking for a local file, email or weblink. It is intuitive and easy. Not well known, granted but it could become so.

Apple doesn’t “need” local search nor need to dominate it in the same way that Google does.  Apple needs local search to keep folks using the iPhone and as a way of surfacing apps that service users local needs. They need to deliver customers to local businesses and keep the local powers to be happy. They need to keep developers developing. That is a dramatically different agenda driving them then Google’s of needing to gather everybody’s data and selling it aggressively against ads into the local market. And as such they can put the priority on user experience NOT ads. And like Google they do not need Local to “pay for itself” directly, at least for a while.

And Apple, given their control of the OS and its default choices, doesn’t need to make local search better than Google’s to compete with them the way Bing or Yahoo might. They just need to make it good enough, for now, that users don’t abandon it to a Google app or platform. And, in stealth mode, they need users to slowly adopt it as Apple improves it enough to aggressively promote it.

As we have learned with the Yahoo/FireFox deal, a default search engine can be a very powerful driver of traffic and marketshare. There are still interface issues (for example the arbitrary distinction between Siri and Spotlight) and a head on battle with Google over local search is a tough battle so there are no guarantees.

Apple though, seems to have succeeded in that effort with Maps and it appears that is the direction they are taking with Local Search.

I am curious if you think that this approach will work for Apple. Will it move the market share needle? Does Google have a true competitor that is making a frontal “attack” on Google’s dominance?

Screens of the iOS 8 Local Search Experience:

Photo Dec 15, 12 52 11 PM
A partial search via Spotlight works well and is fast. Mispellings though, have nowhere near the capability of Google to understand and correct.
If you select “More locations in Maps” you are taken to this Map view with the number one listing highlighted.
List View selected from the Map
Listing information is as least as rich as Googles when Yelp has the photos. It is necessary to leave the screen to read more reviews in the Yelp app.


Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Apple: Local Search Embedded in Spotlight as a Default - Can it Move the Needle? by

19 thoughts on “Apple: Local Search Embedded in Spotlight as a Default – Can it Move the Needle?”

  1. Spotlight/local search actually works fairly well, although I’m not keen on leaving Apple Maps entirely (over to Yelp) when I click to read a review… I find that a bit frustrating; now I’m dealing with two separate apps. Other than that, it actually provides a lot of good info. Maybe Apple should be ‘spotlighting’ this feature a bit more.

    1. @Andy
      Yes it does work reasonably well… and it will sneak up on users. Besides poor integration with Yelp (they need more than 3 reviews to show) there is also the lack of integration with Siri. I see the latter as a bigger impediment to adoption.

  2. Mike: Thoughtful provocative piece. I question one sentence here toward the top–> “It isn’t clear that this has resulted in great income but it has resulted in their dominant position in the local search market.”

    If you try and ascertain just how large google ad revenues are relative to searches that are often local it has to be somewhere in the “MANY BILLIONS”

    Between 2000 and this year local newspapers’ ad revenues fell from $65 billion to less than $20 billion. Much of local newspapers’ ad revenues were and are local. Its moved from print to the web. Google has been the major recipient.

    The above suggests that Google has captured $10’s of billions in ad revenues, at the least. It is the major recipient of web advertising dollars.

    This piece from early 2012, reviewing google’s revenues by industry…implies that billions came from ads driven into local regions.

    I believe it is very clear how lucrative and financially successful advertising into local markets is for google.

    Accordingly, should apple Bite into this search volume it would have a significant impact. Should apple want to compete for a piece of the advertising pie on local, it too will be interesting.

    Its a very large, hugely lucrative world. We shall see what will occur.

  3. @Dave
    The reason that I prevaricated on that front is that I don’t have data one way or the other. And you could very well be right that its a huge $ source for Google. I am just not sure.

  4. prevaricate wow. big word. you could be a politician!!! or a professor.

    Correctomundo, sir. We don’t have hard facts on exactly where the adwords income comes from. I’m sure Google isn’t going to tell us either.

    By the way I didn’t reference this link from 2012 taking a harder analytical look at verticals that contributed to google’s adwords income:

    It was interesting and revealing.

    We don’t have hard facts on where the income comes from. Read between the lines, or do some analysis and the suggestions are that income from local searches generates enormous adwords income….something in the billions or 10’s of billions.

    That suggests that your article hits a very critical point and is worth a lot to google, potentially to apple and its potentially of huge value to any other entity that can crack that opportunity.

  5. @Dave
    Great link and certainly many of the players have a local advertising interest.

    Prevaricate has 11 letters. The exact same length as your longest words (with the exception of Correctomundo which doesn’t qualify).

  6. I have found the web integration into Spotlight Search kind of mixed in that it adds noise to desktop searches. But I imagine over time as Apple improves the experience that I might start to use it as my portal into web searches.

    At the moment, I almost always have a browser window open so it requires extra effort to initiate a web search from Spotlight v. just querying Google via the browser’s address bar.

    The irony is that both Google and Spotlight Search have a propensity to show Wikipedia at the top of the results 🙂

  7. @Andrew
    I agree that I don’t use Spotlight for Local search on the desktop… I have however started using it more on mobile.

    But I just upgraded to Yosemite so I am perhaps not the best test.

    The issue though is the subliminal reinforcement between mobile and desktop and the propensity of users to mostly use whatever is the default.

    Apple has a much harder row to hoe on the desktop due to entrenched behaviors but on mobile, they have a fighting chance at changing behaviors and it is possible that the glow of that could affect desktop behaviors, no?

  8. Until mobile Spotlight Search is better integrated into SIRI, seems unlikely to grab hold. It’s great for searching for apps on your device, but for me at least, search still equals searching from your browser address bar.

    But to your point, when Apple delivers a service that makes these things seamless or rather, that makes the difference between a mobile browser query and a Spotlight query disappear, then that could start to change behavior on the desktop as well. Apple’s Continuity is starting to blur the experience across devices. I still find it all a bit confusing but it wouldn’t surprise me if a few years from now Apple had made considerable inroads on chipping away at a lot of the things that we currently use Google for.

  9. I expect Facebook search t take over Google local eventually. Google has been doing well with local search but it seems like it can be easily manipulated and every algo adjustment gets worse in my opinion.

  10. Great article! Thanks, Mike. I have to say that I prefer Apple Maps because it seems easier to me to be able to anticipate upcoming turns, but it is awfully convenient to be able to look up locations from recent Google searches. Thanks again! Kelly – your Get Five Stars fan 🙂

  11. In full disclosure, I work for one of Apple Map’s suggested “companies that currently provide us business listing information”, so I am of course, excited for Apple’s move to get into Local.
    It might turn out by next year that this move wasn’t necessarily a move to make more money, (I want to believe their motive is user experience) but rather a sign of the times that everything is going more local and providing that information is part of the updated definition of what a map is.
    A map app without (managed) local data is as useful as an AAA Triptik.
    Great article, Mike!

    1. @David
      In the end, in capitalism, it is always about making more money. I think though with Apple they do think differently about how to do that…. Apple Pay being an example… improving user experience, increase value of platform to user and vendors and that will ultimately equal greater profit.

  12. Local search segment is becoming hotter than ever, nice to see that all the major players are doing every thing possible to garner the biggest possible share. But loved the Apple’s approach, low key and effective.

  13. Mike: After reading this article about Christmas day sales and noting some of the impact of Apple and IOS systems I thought of this piece: The article references on line sales on Christmas day, references devices, trends and Apple devices:,2817,2474217,00.asp

    Mobile and Tablet Sales and traffic are up up up. Tablet sales increased significantly from one year ago.

    What I found interesting re: this piece about Apple is that sales from Apple mobile devices were higher and more significant than from Android devices. Some significant numbers.

    Apple is a “premium device” To a certain degree android smart phones might be selling like hot cakes, but the less expensive Android SmartPhones are not that difference in price from non Smart Phone devices.

    There is a not insignicant population of owners of Android smart phones that just don’t have the means to shop a lot. Could be a lot of traffic, but it may not result in a lot of on line sales or a lot of online research and offline sales. At least not relative to Apple devices.

    I was contemplating that Apple devices might have a “premium value” to advertisers and merchants.

    Maybe…maybe not…maybe in the future.

    That would manifest a significant opportunity for Apple should local searchers start using Apple Maps quite a bit.

    Something to think about.

  14. I expect Facebook search t take over Google local eventually. Google has been doing well with local search but it seems like it can be easily manipulated and every algo adjustment gets worse in my opinion.

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