Siri – a Shot Across Google’s Bow

I had a chance to play with Siri on my wife’s iPhone 4S and after the novelty wore off I was left with a very strong feeling that Siri will usher in a paradigm shift in how we search the internet — both semantically and economically. And this can only be bad news for Google, and, to a much lesser extent, Microsoft.

Prior to Siri (and, to be fair, prior to the existing voice recognition tools on Android devices), internet search meant a text box somewhere — on your desktop, laptop, or mobile device — into which you would type your search terms and await a response. The response usually took the form of a web page with a list of matches and some targeted advertising to pay the bills. Many companies have operated in the internet search space over the past 15 years, but Google now unquestionably owns this space (or I should say: Google has unquestionably owned this space until now). It is worth noting that every Apple iPhone and iPad sold thus far uses Google as the default search engine powering its search text boxes, and therefore Apple’s very large customer base could be counted on to provide a steady stream of search traffic to Google. Enter Siri – the new gatekeeper of search. Now, if you want to do a search on your iPhone 4S you speak your request and Siri decides how to respond, collating data from a variety of sources (which might or might not include Google). The response still looks like a list, but it is a list served up by Apple and any advertising that might be associated with those results comes from Apple. With Siri, Apple has entered the search engine business and they pose an existential threat to Google’s (and Bing’s) multi-billion-dollar search businesses because they are vertically integrated. This threat is very similar to the threat that Microsoft created (and used to massive effect) against Netscape by vertically integrating Internet Explorer with Windows — the gatekeeper controls access and, ultimately, the market.

Microsoft has long claimed that Google’s dominant market share gives them an increasing advantage because they see a more comprehensive sample of search requests and therefore they can design better algorithms based on these inputs. This same advantage is likely to accrue to Apple as Siri blazes a trail into the voice recognition semantic search space: Apple will be in possession of a more comprehensive sample of voice requests and the quality of Siri relative to any competitive offering from Google or Microsoft will continue to improve. Which can only be more bad news for Google.

More and more sources are catching on to the threat that Siri poses to Google. One of the more cogent ones is here:

Interesting times.