There comes a point in many epic stories where the hero must team with its erstwhile rival to take on an even greater threat. For Apple, that time may be now. A report in BusinessWeek on Wednesday suggests that Apple may be in talks with Microsoft to replace the iPhone’s default search engine, Google, with Microsoft’s own offering, Bing.
As recently as 2007, this would have been unthinkable: Google was the stalwart ally who’d helped Apple build the iPhone’s Maps and YouTube applications, and Microsoft was the longtime nemesis whose 1997 $150 million investment was viewed by many as a deal with the devil. Google CEO Eric Schmidt even had a seat on Apple’s board of directors, a position that could never have belonged to Microsoft founder Bill Gates or CEO Steve Ballmer.
But the best of friends have a way of becoming the worst of enemies (just ask Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier). Schmidt departed Apple’s board, Apple rejected several of Google’s iPhone apps, and now the two seem to be competing at every turn.
And yet, through all of that, Google remained inextricably linked to much of Apple’s software: its search box, for example, is prominently displayed in Safari on both the iPhone and the Mac. (The Windows version of Safari, like the iPhone version, lets users choose between Google or Yahoo.) And Google, of course, makes money off ads displayed when people make searches through that box.
Given the two companies’ prominent placement at the forefront of the technology industry, it’s no surprise that Apple might turn to another high-stakes player to help take a bite out of Google—even if that third player has as tortuous a history with Apple as Microsoft does. But at this point, both Apple and Microsoft stand to lose more from Google than they do from each other.
Of course, even if Apple and Microsoft strike a deal to make Bing the iPhone’s default search engine, there’s no guarantee that iPhone users won’t switch back to Google en masse (assuming Google is left as an option).
And if Google is really that much of a concern, it raises the question of those other points of intersection between the search giant and Apple. It’s already been rumored that Apple is developing its own mapping software and the BusinessWeek piece also suggests that the Bing deal may only be an interim solution while Apple develops its own search effort.