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Of Course Apple Is Going to Do Search.

By - June 02, 2010

…you just have to rethink what “search” really means. Last night Jobs said he had no interest in search. I am quite certain what he meant is he has no interest in HTML, “traditional” search. But think about what search really is, and I am certain, Apple will be in the search business.

Why? Well, as I said in the last post on the iPad (and rather hurriedly, and entirely my fault, poorly communicated to many of those who left comments), it’s all about the link. Perhaps I should have said, it’s all about the signal.

Let’s think about the allegories between search and the web as we knew it, and apps and the app platform that Apple controls, as we know it. Last night Jobs said that we’ve never before seen such an explosion of apps as we’ve witnessed on the iPhone platform – 200,000 and counting, up to 20K new ones a week.

That’s true, never before have so many developers created mobile phone apps in such abundance. But think back to the last great platform where hundreds of thousands created value by making new services, content, and places where consumers might interact: yep, that’d be the web. A website is an app. And the platform of the web – it’s open. Anyone can build on it. And anyone can create signals from their “app” to another “app” – a link from one site to another. And anyone can share any data from any site to another site, or mash up those data streams to create entirely new kinds of sites. Yep, it was rather a free for all, but over the past 15 or so years business rules have emerged, social norms have developed, an ecosystem has flourished.

Take yourself back to the early days of the web – just as now we are in the early days of what I’ve called before, and will call here, AppWorld.

Remember what a mess it was? How much noise there was, and how precious little signal? And what application emerged that found that precious signal, made sense of it, and helped us find our way? Yep, it was search, and the signal was the link, interpreted, of course, through PageRank and ultimately hundreds of other sub signals (click through, freshness, decay, etc.)

Now, think of AppWorld. Where’s the signal? Short answer is, we don’t have one. Yet.

The beauty of the link was that it became a proxy for engagement. It was where consumers were declaring their intent – signaling what they wanted from the web. That signal became the basis for a massive marketing economy. Google ascended. And content models were turned upside down (much to my delight at FM, I will admit).

So then, what is the proxy for engagement in AppWorld? Before you argue that “we don’t need one,” let’s not forget Jobs’ stated goal of getting into advertising so as to give his legions of developers a business model, to reward them for creating value on Apple’s platform. That’s the whole reason he’s creating iAds, he declared last night. To get his developers paid. “We won’t be making very much money on advertising,” he said. (Let’s watch and see…)

Well, if marketers are going to find value in AppWorld, they’re going to need a proxy for engagement, a trail of breadcrumbs, some signal(s) that show were consumers are, what they are doing, and ideally, predicts what they might do next. And we as consumers also need this trail – we need smart navigation tools to figure out which apps to use, which apps our friends recommend, and how best to navigate the apps we are using. It was easy when there were just a few apps. Now there are hundreds of thousands. Soon there will be millions. Don’t tell me a Google like metadata play isn’t going to evolve inside such an ecosystem. After all, search did all those things for the web. But so far, we don’t have a similar signal for AppWorld.

But we will. The data is already there. It’s the data we all create when we interact with apps – when we jump from one to another, when we navigate within pages, when we execute a command in an app and then ask that app to store that execution “up in the cloud” also known as the web. And as far as I can tell (Apple won’t answer questions on this) it’s that data which, if shared with others besides the developer and Apple, Apple then labels “third party” and forbids (based on a smokescreen of privacy issues, which I believe can and must be addressed).

I believe such a policy cannot stand, because it will create a fragile ecosystem devoid of feedback loops and external innovation. No matter, whether or not Apple allows third parties to consume AppWorld data, Apple will do search. It won’t be search as we understand it on the web, but it’ll be search for AppWorld, and if done right, it will be extremely profitable.

**Dashed off as I am running to lunch at D….will update soon…**

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19 thoughts on “Of Course Apple Is Going to Do Search.

  1. Eric Enge says:

    Such a signal may prove to be hard to find. All the major players in the web/mobile ecosphere are looking for it and the first one to find it will be the one with a chance to displace Google.

  2. reactorr says:

    Would love to see this happen. Is there an app for that?

  3. tckruise says:

    It gets down to Apple trying to create Shangrala in the iPad/iPhone world. If Steve can create the equivalent of adwords/adsense with app search and app ads then he makes a bundle of money. It’s the Android/chrome/html5/adwords/adsense platform VS the iphone/osx/ipad/app/iAds platform.

    Or
    Open world vs Shangrala.

    Or
    we have a web site for this and a web site for that; vs
    we have an app for this and an app for that.

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  5. I suspect ‘search’ will become outmoded shortly; think of it becoming more of ‘found’ function… one way ‘found’ might work is I create a shopping/to do list and when I’m close to a place that has what I’m looking for it alerts me…
    Thinking of it this way means SJ is truthful when he says Apple’s not interested in doing search.

  6. Lester Puppo says:

    I have to agree with the comment by @app developer. It makes sense for apple to take a different path, as a matter of fact, that’s the tendency when it comes to Apple’s working policy.

  7. It is not a surprise and in fact, I think it is a good movement from Apple.

    Will that be an app???

    Cheers,

    Alex.

  8. Krystian says:

    I really wonder what new can be done in search.
    Bing is trying to beat Google by continously making stupid adverts on the TV, but honestly, after I saw many failed projects of “thumbnail searching” for websites etc, I’m curious what can they invent that will be new and better in any way.

  9. techie.brandon says:

    I enjoy apple products but simply because they hold everything to their chest and are completely proprietary I don’t spend my time developing anything to be used on their devices. I have a strong belief that they are counter-productive to the greater IT community and the open-source, collaborative direction we have been heading. All of the big players have been on board to some varying degree with the exception of Apple who’s made it painfully obvious that they don’t want to share any of their expertise with the greater community. I think they will rise and fall much like they did in the past; much of their current technology is based of technology developed by standards derived by the IT community or by directly from open-source projects (linux under OS X anyone?). By withdrawing their expertise they are only sapping the industry and providing nothing in return. I predict a rise and fall much like before, people will realize (again!) that lock-in/proprietary models are not in their best interest.

  10. Kurt says:

    There is a signal– Appolicious.com, and they just did an integration/distribution deal with Yahoo.

  11. Carlos says:

    Hi,

    I really enjoyed reading your article.

    The question is:

    What will we have in, say, 5-10 years, web apps all over the internet that can be executed from any devices having a browser or Apple devices everywhere running Apple apps?

    Right now we have both approaches and they receive lots and lots of money from consumers and investors. Which one will prevail?

    Carlos.

  12. TheRealBill says:

    @app_developer: that app already exists. OmniFocus from the Omni Group does that with certain tasks. It could be a bit smarter but would require store-side work.

  13. Just as Search provides breadcrumbs for the Web, Recommendation will do so for Apps, imho. Those recommendations can be custom-tailored by server-side processes that are driven by business rules, and push a URL to an App (client) that’s tethered to a server. Or they can be hard-wired into free-standing, non-tethered Apps, to always point to one place.

  14. jewsroch says:

    @techie.brandon – I don’t think apple is “sapping the industry and providing nothing in return” at all. In fact I think it’s the opposite. Apple’s closed model, albeit frustrating to anyone outside, enables them to create products that define the target. They’ve set the bar on almost all of their more recent launches… ipod, iphone, maybe tablet, os x. Maybe they do combine or redefine existing technologies, but they do that better than anyone else. If the world of innovation or tech development was left only to redhat or mozilla, the speed at which everyone would create would be slower. Not to slight those projects… I think they’re great and also necessary. But the Apples of the world have a faster and more aggressive pace which pushes everyone up. As for Apple falling down again… who knows… I’d keep an eye on this app-”found” notion…

  15. Ouriel says:

    John

    the problem is not search in itself but app discovery at large, search being one of the ways to adress discovery. You point to the social graph for example in your post. This is why we created http://Appsfire.com a multi mechanism discovery site including social graph, collective recommendation algorithm (something like Genius, but focused on relevance and geography), super fast app search, vertical and curated selections and a lot more coming.

    The signal in my mind lays in 3 parts: usage, geography and in-app data. think about spotlight+iTunes search +maps search combined+some secret sauce we are building (and Apple probably too)

    let s see what apple will announce next week. But we believe discovery is a major issue that Apple alone will not solve, just like they did not solve it on music and movies and gave room for companies like Last.fm or RottenTomatoes

  16. techie.brandon says:

    @jewsroch: Point well taken, I do agree that sometimes having a single target to develop toward can accelerate some forms of technological advancement. I think we already have a great example from the past to base observations on this type of development model. The domination of the intel processor comes to mind; while not the best processor of the time it became most prominent due to the suffocation of other competitors due to market strategy and questionable business tactics. The real question becomes whether this is the best technology for the indefinite future. In my mind we should allow all technologies to compete on a level playing field and not let those with the most money buy the field. With your comparison I have to question who’s product is really better? Apple’s Safari or Mozilla’s Firefox? I think most would agree Firefox has a huge fan-base and is moving very aggressively with the small developer-base that it has in comparison to the enormous money and cycles that both MS and Apple throw at their browsers. I think a appropriate comparison is Google versus Apple… I don’t assume open-source/collaborative approach can be the sole approach without leadership, direction, and oversight (corporate when you become of significant size). I just don’t think they should lock-out outside developers with competing products to their own and I think they should expose their code for peer review from the masses. The more people included usually ends up with a greater product and fewer security concerns; guidance is required of course. I certainly plan on keeping an eye on Apple, my profession requires it, and this is certainly a health discussion I just like to remind everyone of the drawbacks of proprietary and lock-in vendors. IBM, Oracle, etc have all moved away from their proprietary models to some extent or another with great results… each provides proprietary enhancements but don’t require you to use them. Sometimes if enough vendors are using similar enhancements they get together and come up with a standard to increase interoperability and help those of us coding to speed our development. I like this model… it has proved effective. Sorry so long :) Warm Regards

  17. Fantastic post!! I love this site. Excellent work.

  18. I wonder what new can be done in the search. Bing is trying to beat Google by continuedmaking stupid ads on TV, but honestly, having seen many failed projects “look in miniature”for websites, etc. I have curiosity about what can be invented will be new and better in some way. 

  19. As well as finding offers bread crumbs to the Web, make recommendations forapplications, in my humble opinion. These recommendations can be tailored by the server-side processes that are driven by business rules, and promote a URL for an application (client) that is tied to a server. Or they can be wired independent, non-tied applications, to the extent provided in one place.