In a revelation that underscores the shifting dynamics of the search engine market and tech industry alliances, it has emerged that Microsoft Corp. discussed selling its Bing search engine to Apple Inc. as recently as 2020. The move would have been a game-changer, potentially replacing Google as the default search engine on Apple’s multitude of devices.
The Talks That Never Matured
According to confidential sources, executives from Microsoft engaged in discussions with Apple’s services chief, Eddy Cue, about the possibility of Apple acquiring Bing. These talks were described as “exploratory” and never reached an advanced stage. Cue, who brokered Apple’s existing search engine relationship with Google, was central to these discussions.
The Backdrop: Legal Challenges and Market Dominance
The timing of these discussions is noteworthy, especially considering the ongoing antitrust trial against Google led by the U.S. Department of Justice. The legal battle aims to prove that Google abused its dominant position in the search engine market. Apple’s lucrative arrangement with Google, which involves billions of dollars in exchange for a prime spot in Apple’s Safari web browser and other platforms, is a focal point of the case.
Bing: The Underdog with Less Than 10% Market Share
Launched in 2009 to compete with Google, Bing has never managed to secure a significant market share. According to recent data, Bing accounts for less than 10% of all searches, a far cry from Google’s overwhelming dominance. Despite its modest success, Bing has had its moments, including reaching 100 million active users in March 2023 and integrating innovative features like a GPT-4 based AI chatbot experience.
Why Didn’t Apple Bite?
Several factors contributed to Apple’s decision not to proceed with the acquisition. First and foremost was the revenue generated from its deal with Google, which ranged from $4 billion to $7 billion annually as of 2020. Furthermore, Apple had reservations about Bing’s ability to compete with Google in terms of quality and capabilities.
Interestingly, Apple did use Bing as the default search engine for Siri and Spotlight between 2013 and 2017. However, it reverted back to Google as part of an updated revenue-sharing agreement.
A Series of “What-Ifs” and Strategic Moves
The discussions between Apple and Microsoft were not the first of their kind. Microsoft had been eyeing the default search engine spot on Apple devices as far back as 2016. Executives, including CEOs Tim Cook and Satya Nadella, even met to explore the possibility of a deal. The idea was to make a multibillion-dollar investment to outbid Google, but the plans never materialized.
The Current State of Affairs
As of now, Google continues to be the default search engine on Apple devices, including Siri and Spotlight. Eddy Cue testified that the arrangement between Apple and Google was extended in 2021, more than a year after Microsoft’s pitch to sell Bing.
Microsoft’s attempt to sell Bing to Apple provides a fascinating glimpse into the strategic maneuvers that big tech companies are willing to consider, even if such plans never reach fruition. As the legal framework around search engine dominance continues to evolve, these historical talks might very well shape the narrative and future alliances in the tech world.