What if Google Wasn’t The Default?

Nov 14, 2023

Google has paid Apple to be the default search on their operating systems since 2002. But recent antitrust cases against Google have shed more light on this deal.

Google pays Apple 36% of the revenue it earns from search advertising through the Safari browser (iOS, macOS).

The power of defaults is real. From the trial, 75% of users don’t switch defaults. And 50% of iOS users don’t know what search engine they are using.

What would happen if Google wasn’t the default? Where would that revenue go?

Increased competition in mobile browsers. It’s hard to close the gap on Chrome vs. Safari on iOS. Google is at the mercy of the iOS Webkit engine -- all browsers on mobile are essentially the same underneath the hood. But that might change. And we’re likely to see more R&D shifted to mobile browsers. Consumers should win — they will become faster and ship with better features. Although I don’t see an opportunity for a startup to compete here — browsers are hard to monetize directly (maybe OpenAI?).

Refocus on Android. Google can still compete on its own turf with Android.

Apple’s Search Engine. What if Apple created its own search engine? It certainly has the resources to invest in one. It can probably cobble up the infrastructure and talent to execute on it.

Chromium competition. Microsoft is already keeping Chromium competitive with its Edge browser. There are enough companies that are invested in Chromium to make it difficult for Google to make choices that are only favorable to Google (otherwise, there’s the threat of the hard fork).

Differentiation and integration. Google services are still sticky. Gmail works best on Chrome. Google Docs uses cutting-edge features first (or only) found on Chrome. Google might use these apps as a way to convince users to switch to Chrome. If you’ve ever visited a Google property on Safari, you know just how persistent the pop-up messages can be to switch to Chrome.

Startups. The Antitrust Opportunity for new companies is real. It creates a space for new competitors and prevents incumbents from entering hot new markets (if they’re under scrutiny already).

  • Antitrust against IBM (1969-1981) and Microsoft (1975) and Apple (1976)
  • Antitrust against Microsoft (2001) and Google (1998)