A new report from The Information (via 9to5Mac) explores Apple's ongoing project to develop in-house search capabilities but paints a gloomy picture regarding the launch of a direct rival to Google search.
According to the report's sources, an Apple search engine, if it launches at all, cannot realistically happen within the next four years.
Apple's search plan was boosted in 2018 by the acquisition of the news/recommendation startup Laserlike, which was founded by three former Google search employees.
At the time, the project was a significant one for Cupertino, with Laserlike co-founder Srinivasan Venkatachary occupying a senior role in a search-focused team numbering at least 200 employees–and this was separate from, and in addition to, the team in charge of search on the App Store.
But The Information reveals that all three Laserlike founders have since returned to Google, dealing a potential blow to the Apple team quietly developing search capabilities that might compete head-on with Google's. Sources now estimate that Apple is at least four years away from launching a potential Google search replacement.
It's important to stress that Apple's plans both before and after the loss of search talent to Google are unlikely to have focused on simply building a straight competitor to Google.com. Search is a priority for Apple as an integrated element: it's vital for improving Siri's ability to answer queries, for Spotlight on Mac and iPhone, and for Siri Suggestions.
App Store search is also historically not great, and even though that team is separate it would be hoped that developments in one department could cross over to at least some degree. Indeed, the report notes that work by Venkatachary's former team could in the future be used in this area, as well as for Apple Music.
Aside from raising the quality of its products, in-house search capabilities could affect Apple's bottom line in more direct ways.
At the moment, it outsources search to Google in a deal that earns it an estimated $18 to $20 billion per year, but regaining internal control of search would open up new revenue opportunities based on advertising and data capture… areas that Apple hasn't previously shown an interest in, but which might fit its recent behaviour.