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Steve Jobs At D8: The Search Engine Edition

Steve Jobs’ interview at the D8 conference last night was widely covered and live-blogged. He covered lots of ground, from competing with Android, to rejecting Flash, Apple TV and AT&T’s network. Below I discuss selected (mostly search-related) parts of the lengthy interview.

Putting to rest a very persistent rumor, Jobs said that notwithstanding Android and competition with Google on several fronts, the company wouldn’t be banned or removed from any of Apple’s iDevices. He also repeated a previous remark that Google decided to compete with Apple and not the other way around.

Jobs affirmed, however, that Cupertino won’t be going into the search business or building its own search engine, despite its recent acquisition of the search-like, “personal assistant” Siri. Here’s the relevant exchange from Engadget’s live blog coverage:

Kara [Swisher]: Are you going to remove [Google] from the iPhone?

Steve [Jobs]: No . . . We want to make better products than them. What I love about the marketplace is that we do our products, we tell people about them, and if they like them, we get to come to work tomorrow . . . Just because we’re competing with someone doesn’t mean we have to be rude.
Walt [Mossberg]: So last year we had a company called Siri, a search company…

Steve: I wouldn’t call them a search company…

Walt: Well you bought this search…

Steve: They’re not a search company. They’re an AI company. We have no plans to go into the search business. We don’t care about it — other people do it well.

Regarding Siri not being a search engine, Jobs is both right and wrong in a sense. Siri isn’t a search engine in the technical sense that it has no index. However people might use it like a search engine or in lieu of a search engine.

Jobs also repeated his earlier, provocative statement that people aren’t searching on the iPhone:

Steve: We discovered something — people are going into apps. They’re not just going onto to websites. And people love apps. This is an entirely new thing — they aren’t using search, they’re using apps like Yelp.

In a previous post we unpacked that statement and argued it contained both truth and inaccuracy:

The “search box” has not become the across-the-board driver of the mobile experience in the same way it is on the PC. Yet Jobs also misstates things when he says “search hasn’t happened.”

The Yelp app that Jobs mentions as the exemplar of “non-search” on the iPhone is in fact a local search engine. Many other apps on the iPhone could equally be characterized as vertical search engines; people are using them in a “directional” way to find information. This is search (the consumer behavior) though it’s not happening on traditional search engines.

Yesterday Nielsen released some very interesting survey data about app usage on the major US smartphone platforms. Here’s how the top five apps look on the iPhone, Android, RIM and Other (WinMo, Palm, Symbian):

Only on the Android platform does the Google search app appear in the top five. The more popular (pre-installed) Google Maps app is of course a local search engine. Beyond this people are using the Safari search box (default is Google) on the iPhone. So search is actually happening. But, again, Jobs is correct in saying that it’s not the same phenomenon in mobile that it is on the PC.

In response to an audience question by a Flurry analytics investor, Jobs discussed iAds, rival networks and mobile analytics on the iPhone. Many people have been wondering if Apple was intending to shut other ad networks out of the iPhone. Jobs said “no.” Other ad networks will apparently be free to operate on the iPhone.

Regarding analytics in particular, Jobs explained that he was upset by violations of Apple’s privacy policy (the transmission of device-specific information) and the publication of details about forthcoming Apple products (namely the iPad) that were going on over at Flurry. He clarified that analytics will be permitted for advertising purposes (i.e., to track performance) but there are more specifics that remain to be determined.

Here’s a video clip of the iAds/analytics discussion:

Jobs also revealed that the concept for the iPad preceded the iPhone. Apple built a crude prototype for an iPad-like device and then decided it could become the basis for a phone:

I had this idea about having a glass display, a multitouch display you could type on. I asked our people about it. And six months later they came back with this amazing display. And I gave it to one of our really brilliant UI guys. He then got inertial scrolling working and some other things, and I thought, ‘my god, we can build a phone with this’ and we put the tablet aside, and we went to work on the phone.

Update: comScore released data showing the top usage categories in mobile. Note the differences between app and browser users regarding search usage. In the app world, search is less often used than by those accessing the internet via a mobile browser.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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