On a mobile device Search hasn't happened

This is one of the most thought provoking things I’ve ever heard.  Some of the implications are unfathomable.  Before we dive into the implications of iAd, here is the exact quote from the Apple Special Event, April 2010 (iPhone 4.0 launch) around 45 minutes in.

When you look at a mobile phone, it’s not like the desktop.
On the desktop, Search is where it’s at.  That’s where the money is.
But on a mobile device Search hasn’t happened. Search is not where it’s at. People aren’t searching on a mobile device like they are on a desktop.
What’s happening is that they’re spending all their time in apps.
When people are looking for a place they want to go out to dinner they’re not searching. They’re going into Yelp. They’re using apps to get the data on the internet rather than a generalized search.
And this is where the opportunity to deliver advertising is.
Not as part of search but as part of apps.

Jobs is making a set of huge claims:

  1. There is no search on devices.
  2. There is no money in search on devices.
  3. Apps create an inventory of billions of ad impressions every day
  4. Apps are better at delivering the data from the internet than a browser
  5. Apps are therefore the new browsers and eyeball aggregators

This is heavy stuff.  I believe what gives Apple the confidence to make these claims is the vast amount of data on user behavior that the app store collects. It’s possible they’re wrong, but it’s more likely they’re right.

If they’re right, what are the implications?  First, obviously, iAd adds up to a lot of cash « Asymco.  Second, this has dire consequences for Google.  Jobs could not be more blunt: search is not where the money is at.

I can chip in some personal experiences that confirm this preference for apps over browser interfaces, but I leave it as an exercise to the reader.

  • EdH

    I think the premise holds on the iPhone but not necessarily on the iPad whose UI allows and input will make search more widely used. Comes down to usabilty in my book.

  • That's a good point, however, consider what would happen if people had "apps" on their PCs? Would people still use browsers if there was a sharp little app on their desktop that gave them what they want. Case in point: when blogging I can post using multiple browser interfaces, but there are also apps and invariably I use the apps: easier and cleaner and faster.

    The problem with the PC has been no easy app monetization or no app store. I think people prefer appliances for common tasks.

    • Tom Ross

      The thing here could be that if PC/Mac apps were as easy to use as the web, or indeed iPxx apps, people would use them a lot more. I believe this is another aspect of how the dominance of Microsoft DOS/Windows has slowed down the progress of computing for 2 decades.

      The web liberated us from Microsoft's computing monopoly, now there's finally room again for completely new paradigms like the iPad. Google still thinks that the Web will be the end of history, but they're wrong. There will always be something new, superseding the old. At this time, Google Search is clearly under threat to lose its gatekeeper position for how we use computers.

      • Well put. Google devotees do have this "the Web is the end of history" outlook. But I'm fairly certain that their management knows that it's a myth. They are slowly moving from "the center" to "the edge" of the network with clients and platforms and interfaces. Android itself belies their web-centric world view.

        Unfortunately for Google, being good with the center gives you no advantages in being even mediocre on the edge.

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  • Eric

    I agree with Jobs' point #3, but #1-2 & #4-5 are completely self serving.

    As for search, Apple doesn't make money off of search, so of course they're going to play it down. And they're wrong — I use my iPhone, and so do many others at my company, to search. A lot. This is a ludicrous statement.

    As for apps – I think Jobs is right… but "web" apps are the wave of the future. Take a look at Chrome OS and how their Native Client push, along with full integration of Flash and running C+ as native code within the browser is pushing the performance of web apps running locally, as well as accessing hardware (like camera and the accelerometer).

    I'll buy Steve's stuff, but I won't drink his cool-aid. At least not "only" his cool-aid… Google has some good cool-aid itself.

    This is good article by the way:

  • Eric,
    The only thing I can say to defend Jobs' claim is that he has data on how 100 million devices are used. They may not have perfect information, but they are likely to have more information on usage than anyone else. The user interface that browsers provide on devices is sub-optimal vs. that from dedicated apps. Sure, search is very popular, more popular on iPhone than any other device (and Google pays Apple millions for placement of their search box in every device), but Jobs is saying that Search is not the best interface. Apps are. I suspect the number of App impressions will overwhelm the number of Search impressions, if it has not already.

    As far as Apple embracing the web, stay tuned. Their web apps strategy is still emerging.

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  • This is a game of absolute numbers, but even so, here's just a little bit of perspective: