According to various reports, Apple has approached Microsoft about making Bing the default search engine on the iPhone. I'm sure it's all enough to make Steve Ballmer come out from behind his desk and do a happy dance.
His little search engine that could is being portrayed as the anti-Google, but before we get too ahead of ourselves, let's not forget this is Microsoft we are talking about. There are no white knights in big business, only shifting alliances that suit the needs of the various parties.
The Eyeball Wars
In search, it's all about eyeballs. And Google is winning the search battle hands down. According to search engine market share statistics released by comScore in December, Google leads all search engines with 65.7% of all search traffic. Yahoo! was second with 17.7, followed by Microsoft at 10.3. Did you notice Microsoft is way back in the pack? Yes, they gained .4 from November, but let's face it, Bing has a looong way to go before they even catch Yahoo! in second place.
Yet Apple apparently wants to hitch its immensely popular phone to this search product? If Apple really wants a change, why not go to Yahoo! or even Ask (which is actually a darn good search engine). Going to Bing is purely about giving Google a slap in the face.
It's the Perception
Rupert Murdoch, CEO of Newscorp, has made a lot of noise in recent months about pulling out of Google Search and moving to Bing. Perhaps he believes because it's Microsoft, it has some clout, but look at the numbers above. Murdoch and others may think Microsoft could be the search equivalent of the knight in shining armor, but they are just another large company with lofty goals, a big publicity machine, and a minuscule market share.
In spite of Murdoch's frequent public statements to the contrary, newspapers benefit a great deal from search engine traffic to their web sites. A recent BNET article showed just how much:
"According to the metrics service comScore, between a third and a half of all traffic to five major U.S. newspaper sites comes from search engines."
Notice that not much of that is coming from Bing.
Bing Ain't No Hero
Bing is obviously an alternative to Google, but one of several possibilities. Apple aligning with Microsoft would be big news and probably carry into the mainstream media. Is it really in Apple's best interest to give Microsoft that kind of publicity lift, even if it turns out to be a short-term one? Others, like publishers may also believe that running into the arms of Microsoft would challenge Google's power substantially. Given the current numbers, I'm not so sure that's a reasonable expectation.
Whatever happens, everyone involved should be clear, Bing ain't no search engine hero, not by a long shot. Companies should tread carefully in this regard because in the end Microsoft and Google aren't very different. One just happens to be much more successful in search.
I suspect most users don't care what search engine they use as long as they get the results they're looking for. Buying market share is a tried and true tactic. Ballmer was willing to pay Murdoch, and I'm sure he'd be willing to pay Apple, too.