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.
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.
But what about direct competitors in the space?
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:
Apple: Local Search Embedded in Spotlight as a Default - Can it Move the Needle? by Mike Blumenthal