Is Apple Poised to Take on Google in Local Search?

When it comes to search engines, Google has long been the king of the hill, easily swatting down all would-be competition. Bing and Yahoo Local remain on the margins of local search, but no one has truly been able to give the mega-giant a run for the money until now.

It isn’t one specific company that is poised to draw shares from Google in the local search market, but rather the growing popularity of mobile apps and on-demand marketplaces that are cropping up, such as Amazon’s “Local Services” marketplace. While not competing directly with Google Local Search, they’re endeavoring to help users find local goods and services without leaving the app or website. Which cuts into Google’s purpose of providing users everything they need directly from the search engine – and keeping them there. And now Apple has announced upgrades to its Spotlight search feature that will likely cause Google to sit up and take notice.

What is Spotlight?

You are most likely familiar with Spotlight as the tiny magnifying glass on the top right of the screen where you can search for files or applications directly. Designed for Apple’s OS X and iOS operating systems, Spotlight is a selection-based search system that allows the user to quickly locate anything on the user’s computer or mobile device. Once the user starts typing in the search window, Spotlight begins to display results organized by category, including Documents, Applications, Images and PDF Documents. The more the user types, the more refined the results. The user can also search specific words in documents, bookmarks and pages in a web browser’s history – in addition to looking up definitions from the New Oxford American Dictionary as well as calculator functions.

New for iOS 8

Where Spotlight will give Google some competition is in the new version for iOS 8. Spotlight will now go beyond the device to search for answers — into the World Wide Web. Before answering a query, Spotlight takes into consideration things like the user’s location and context.

Spotlight knows what’s hot and trending in the news, entertainment and fashion, which all factors into search results where appropriate. You may get a snippet of a Wikipedia article, along with a short summary and picture. Simply tap the selection to go to the full article. If you type in the name of a restaurant, Spotlight will show you the nearest one, along with the operating hours and phone number. Tap to go to Maps and you’ll even get directions.

Search for the name of a movie, and Spotlight will display nearby theaters and show times. Spotlight recognizes popular websites and can locate them with just a part of a name. Users can find music, apps and e-books quickly and easily at the iTunes Store, App Store and iBook Store.

Powered by Bing

Perhaps the bitterest pill of all is that Google’s closet rival, Bing, which Apple made the default search engine for its Siri app, is also the default for the new advanced Spotlight search feature. And while Google is still the default search engine for Apple’s Safari web browser for desktop and mobile, Safari now pops up a few search results in a navigation bar dropdown, allowing users to click directly on a result without visiting Google’s results page.

Whether Apple’s new and improved Spotlight will begin to siphon off a serious chunk of Google’s market share in local search will depend on how intelligent and intuitive the program turns out to be, since it returns considerably fewer results than Google. One thing is certain, however, Google may be the biggest fish in the pond, but the pond is full of piranhas.