Have you ever noticed how, in most consumer product sectors, one or two companies dominate their respective landscapes? McDonalds, Coca Cola, Starbucks and Kelloggs all have competition, but they remain the undisputed heavyweights, and it would take a herculean effort to topple them at this point. And even in an infinitely vast sector like the internet, the pattern remains – Google is pretty much on top.
Roughly speaking, Google has an estimated market share of 90% when it comes to online searches in Europe. The company has an annual turnover in the region of $60 Billion, and owns a lot of other notable companies, including YouTube, which itself is the dominant brand in online video. To say it is pretty powerful in all corners of the world wide web is an understatement.
But there are those still willing to try and unsettle Google’s monopoly. Just as Pepsi are always nipping at Coca-Cola’s heels, there are rival search engines trying to loosen Google’s tight grip on the online search market. These “enemies” range from other search engines like Bing, to manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft.
Bing is the biggest aggressor, having been trying things to boost its popularity since parent company Microsoft launched it in 2009. Microsoft have so far avoided a large scale assault, instead working on improving Bing’s integration with different software, and in turn it’s integration into other services. Last year, Bing renewed it’s long standing deal with Twitter, which allows Bing to show tweet in search results. With Twitter proving itself to be second only to Facebook in the social network realm, this is a nice addition, if not a game changing deal.
A more important development for Bing is it’s integration into Apple’s search features. Apple’s speech operated assistant Siri dropped Google as it’s default web search engine in September 2013, replacing it with Bing, and it has recently been announced that Bing will also become the driving force behind Apple’s desktop search tool Spotlight.
Apple also announced in June that it’s next iOS update will come with an option to search using relatively unknown search engine DuckDuckGo. The engine sets itself apart by focusing on user privacy, with it not tracking a user’s search history. Including DuckDuckGo is unlikely to change most user’s search habits, but it is a sign of Apple’s continuing push away from Google. Some theorise that Apple may eventually sever all loose ties to other engines and introduce it own engine, but whether they are willing to take such a bold move remains to be seen.
There are companies who are being a little more hostile however. This year, Google accepted a settlement put forward by EU regulators on the grounds of antitrust. In the settlement, Google agreed to give more weight to competitor products on it’s specialised search results, after being accused of using their position to strengthen their monopoly by prioritising their own products over others. The end result is that for every Google product advertised, three competitor products will also be displayed.
The settlement has garnered a lot of opposition. Yelp, who provide a hub for reviews on restaurants, shops etc., feel not enough is being done to stop Google favouring it’s own services over others in it’s search results. Yelp’s services come into direct competition with Google’s own Google Plus Local, and the company feel that GPL is getting placed ahead of Yelp unfairly. Not alone in their crusade, Yelp have been joined in their opposition by Microsoft, as well as a coalition of German and French publishers who are opposing under the banner of the “Open Internet Project”. They all argue more should be done to make Google’s search algorithms less bias towards it’s own products. This opposition could lead to the settlement being delayed further than the projected completion time of Autumn this year.
So does all of this amount to a worrying time ahead for Google? Not even slightly. Unless it alters dramatically, the EU settlement won’t damage their strong position in the market too much, as they managed to keep their all important search algorithm out of regulator’s hands.
And even with Apple forming strong partnerships with other search companies, Google is still their default on their browser, simply because removing it from that position would result in a major public backlash. The company has become such an institution that the transitive verb “to google” was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2006, and there is a considerable amount of people who aren’t aware other search engines exist. Apple would be crazy to make the switch to anything else until they have a search engine that is better than Google, and it’s not difficult to presume that may be an impossibility at this point. So their begrudging relationship with Google will stand for the foreseeable future, which will only result in Google staying exactly where it is – relaxing on top of it’s ivory tower, secure in the knowledge that very little can harm them.