Google once asked Apple to preload its search app on iOS

Anton Ioffe - October 30th 2023 - 6 minutes read

In this deep-dive article, we peel back the layers of an intriguing business proposition—Google's plea to Apple to preload its search engine as a default app on iOS devices. Delving into the intricacies of preloading applications, we will unravel the possible alteration of market dynamics and user behavior. More than that, we'll navigate through the murky waters of antitrust implications and question whether such a move could potentially monopolize search engine options. And, in a quest to gauge the impact on the end-user, we'll explore how this could redefine user choices and reshape the architecture of search engine habits for millions of iOS users. Could this be a game changer, or a step too far in the data-driven world of big tech? Read on, as we demystify the narratives, the implications, and the potentially unprecedented fallout of this extraordinary request.

Google's Request to Apple to Preload its Search App on iOS

Google's proposition to Apple to preload the Google search app on the iOS platform carries far-reaching implications, notably concerning competition within the search engine market. Google’s initiative originates from their existing model adopted on Android devices. Here, promotional agreements with carriers and device makers feature Google's services. These arrangements not only render Google's apps and services readily accessible but also support free distribution of Android and therefore reduce the cost that consumers pay for phones.

Interestingly, Google does not come preloaded on all devices. For instance, Microsoft's Windows devices come with Edge, a preinstalled browser which uses Bing as the default search engine. Google's endeavor to preload its search app on iOS, therefore, signals a departure from the prevalent trend. Tracking this development is critical for comprehending the current dynamics of the search engine market.

Apple, which has agreed to preload Google Search on the Safari browser, seems to validate Google as being the “best” search engine services provider. This arrangement, however, is non-exclusive. Competitors like Bing and Yahoo! also shell out to feature their services prominently. Yet, the strategic decision to preload Google's search app on iOS could provide Google with an enhanced comparative advantage. In return, this could expand its market influence, and potentially create contemplations regarding fair competition.

The Details of Preloading and Default Settings

The concept of preloading applications on devices has become commonplace in the technology industry, particularly for mobile devices running Apple's iOS or Google's Android operating systems. These preloaded applications, also known as 'Built-In Apps', are developed by the operating system provider and are integrated deeply into the system, thus enabling a more seamless user experience. Nonetheless, this reality bears its own set of implications. For instance, Apple's iOS 14 introduced the 'Preload Top Hit' feature, which loads the first page of a search query automatically. While this feature offers users fast access to search results, it may lead to greater battery and data usage. Given that the setting is enabled by default, users may unknowingly face these consequences if they don't choose to manually alter the settings within their Safari browser or device.

Customization is a key factor of many device settings. While some options, such as privacy controls, allow users to limit which apps can access certain data or system resources, automatically preloaded apps often have access to more system features. The default settings of these applications are also important to consider in understanding usage patterns. Microsoft, for instance, preloads its Edge browser where Bing is used as the default search engine. In comparison, Google has promotional agreements with carriers and device makers which feature Google services on Android devices.

The implications of default settings extend beyond user experience. The case of Mozilla Firefox's choice of default search engine demonstrates that users are capable of exercising their choice if dissatisfied with the default option. After Yahoo! paid to be the default search engine, most American users shifted their search engine back to Google. This highlights that defaults, while influential, don't unequivocally determine user behavior. However, these settings may have a significant role in shaping initial user interactions and experiences with the device or application, especially for less tech-savvy users or those disinclined to tinker with their device settings. Hence, understanding the role and influence of preloading applications and default settings continues to be of substantial significance in the contemporary digital landscape.

Unraveling Anti-Trust Implications

The legal controversy surrounding Google's partnership with Apple for search engine services, has brought the topic of antitrust violations into sharp focus. When we talk about antitrust implications, the question of whether Google, through its agreement with Apple, is indulging in monopolistic behavior comes to the fore. As Douglas Ross, professor from practice at the University of Washington School of Law suggests, the crux of the matter lies in whether the agreements entered into by Google render it virtually impossible for its competitors to gain a foothold in the search engine market.

A part of this concern arises from agreements wherein some phone manufacturers have obliged to Google's mandate of making its search engine the exclusive search tool on their devices, effectively controlling the "home screen eye-level shelf", as per Google's analogy. When such exclusivity agreements are leveraged, it may exclude Google's competitors from being incorporated on these devices. This is the behavior that the US government alleges to be unlawful and indicative of anti-competitive practices that could stifle potential innovation and competition.

However, an important distinction is to be drawn here. Within U.S. antitrust law, a monopoly is not unlawful if gained through legitimate means such as producing superior products, or if consumers have the choice and they inherently prefer one service over another. The unlawfulness comes into play when the monopoly status is leveraged to exclude competitors, effectively reducing consumers' choices. Thus, the trial's outcome could alter the landscape of search engine market and user experience. An adjudication against Google could open the floodgates for competitors and entail a paradigm shift in search behaviour, or it could lead to drastically different approaches to exclusivity agreements in the tech industry. This reckoning holds the potential further redefine antitrust regulations for the digital age.

User Choices and Potential Impact on Search Engine Users

Understanding how preloading the Google search app could impact iOS users requires an examination of several factors. At the core of the matter are the expressed preferences of the users. If a majority of users prefer Google, then preloading the app may align with their desires, streamlining their user experience. However, for those who prefer other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo, preloading Google could potentially infringe on their choice, leading to a biased search engine ecosystem.

While the advantage of preloading Google's app lies in quicker access, it also presents potential downsides. For instance, preloading could inadvertently use up data and drain battery life, especially with the 'Preload Top Hit' feature on iOS 14, making it necessary for users to disable this feature to save battery life and data. Moreover, concerns regarding user privacy cannot be downplayed, as preloading may inadvertently load a website or search query that the user didn't intend, posing potential privacy issues.

The question remains: what is the likely impact on an average search engine user? Some believe turning Google into a default engine delivers the best search experience to consumers. Others argue that this could inadvertently stifle innovation and competition by prioritizing Google over other search engines, potentially denying consumers the benefits brought about by competitive markets. Such a scenario could, in the long term, alter the search engine behavior of consumers. Ultimately, how these dynamics play out will greatly depend on the evolving technology ecosystems and regulatory environments.


Google recently approached Apple with a proposal to have its search engine preloaded as the default app on iOS devices, potentially altering market dynamics and user behavior. The move could give Google an advantage in the search engine market, but it also raises concerns about fair competition and antitrust violations. Preloading apps and default settings on devices can significantly influence user choices and shape initial interactions, and Google's agreement with Apple has sparked legal controversies. The outcome of the trial could have a significant impact on the search engine market and user experience, either opening the door for competitors or reshaping exclusivity agreements in the tech industry. Ultimately, the impact on search engine users will depend on their preferences and the evolving technology and regulatory landscape.

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