Should Apple buy Bing if Microsoft puts it on the market?

Sections: Mac Software, Originals, Web Applications / Development

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It has been recently rumored that Nokia chief executive officer Stephen Elop, who is also presumed to be on the shortlist to replace Steve Ballmer as Microsoft Corp. CEO, would consider cutting loose all of that company’s non-software products and services to focus Microsoft’s efforts on making its Office productivity programs like Word, Excel and PowerPoint available on a wide range of smartphone and tablets platforms, including ones made by Apple and Google. Unnamed insiders claiming to have knowledge of Mr. Elop’s thinking are cited suggesting he would probably drop Microsoft’s longtime strategy of using its Office suite to drive demand for the  Windows operating system, and that along with emphasizing Office, he would be open to selling or shutting down Microsoft’s other businesses—among them Microsoft’s effort to challenge Google in search engine space with its Bing service.

I’ve long been something of a Google devotee since it displaced Yahoo!, InfoSeek, and AltaVista from their early prominence and became my search engine of choice pretty much to the exclusion of all others.

Or at least it was until I finally overcame my reflexive inclination to shun Microsoft products and got around to trying out Microsoft’s Bing search engine in the interest of research a couple of years back. To my surprise, I discovered that Bing is actually pretty good. I kept waiting for some angularity or annoyance typical of Microsoft stuff to send me scurrying back to the reliability and speed of Google, but none ever turned up. Bing was fast and reliable too, and seemed just as efficient as Google at finding whatever I’m looking for. Indeed, could it be possible? At times, Bing seemed even faster and capable of yielding more useful results than Google.

Consequently, I’ve kept using Bing, which now has a permanent place in my workflow toolkit  always open in a browser tab. I still use Google too, and since I usually have three or four different web browsers up and running, it’s easy to keep more than one search engine ready in open tabs for quick reference. I really wouldn’t want to be obliged to choose between the two.

However, one aspect where Google still has the edge is in suggesting useful results from misspelled search criteria, and even helpfully offering corrections. Bing still has some work to do there. Another thing I used to miss in Bing was Google’s search engine’s handy calculator function that lets you type math calculations you’d like solved into the search field and bring up the solution without having to go to a calculator app, but Bing has since added that capability.

On the other hand, Bing has an edge when used on older, slower Macs like my old Pismo PowerBooks in the context of search keyword autofill. Both search engines support autofill, but I find that Google’s tends to slow the old G4s down more than Bing’s, for whatever reason.

Bing evolved from Microsoft’s previous search engines, Live Search, Windows Live Search, and MSN Search. Announced on May 28, 2009, it went fully live a few days later on June 3. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft and Yahoo! announced that Bing would also power Yahoo! Search, with that transition to be completed by early 2012.

Since its 2009 rollout, Bing has gradually been gaining market share, which I find unsurprising given how good it is. According to Experian Hitwise metrics, Bing increased its chunk of the U.S. search engine pie from 23.64% to 30% during the six months between Sept. 2010 and March 2011, after picking up 29% more searches in calendar 2010 than it had in 2009, and it surpassed partner Yahoo! for the first time in February, 2011. Overall, Bing’s market share  nearly doubled from 8.4% to 14.7% in the first two years after its launch, but that wasn’t  enough to stanch a haemorrhage of losses, and with the 2013 year end in sight, Bing continues to operate in the red. Earlier this year a Nomura Research report by analyst Rick Sherlund called for Microsoft to get rid of Bing (and/or Xbox) in the interest of maximizing shareholder value.

Bing’s market share improvement has mainly not been at Google’s expense, but rather derived from eating up shares of smaller players, including Yahoo! and others. Last month, comScore reported that In October, 68.4% of searches carried organic search results from Google, while 27.1% of searches were powered by Bing.

Bing’s user interface is clean, but not as spartan as Google’s. An attractive background picture changes daily, although I rarely see it since I keep Bing up and running all the time, usually displaying the last search results. Bing also features integration with Microsoft’s Hotmail email service, and Bing’s search results can display one’s Facebook friends when a Facebook account is linked with Bing via Facebook Connect. Not biggies for me in either case, but probably of interest if you use those services.

However, these days, I find that I use Bing as much as and likely more than Google, especially, as noted, on my older Macs.

I would be really sorry to see Bing disappear, which leads to wondering if Apple could do better with it than Microsoft has. Apple has proven over and over that it can make handsome profits in market sectors and categories where Microsoft has failed to do so. With its famous cash hoard, Apple would presumably have no difficulty purchasing Bing should Microsoft put it on the market. It would be fascinating to watch what Apple could do with what is already an excellent search engine, perhaps renamed “iSearch.” A 27% market share is not a shabby starting base, and entering the Web Browser market would allow Apple to challenge Google on its own turf.

Just sayin’.

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  • James Katt

    Elop is NOT on the list to become Microsoft CEO. HIs public statements about selling off the XBox, Bing and other Microsoft divisions did not sit well with the Microsoft Board. The Microsoft Board still includes Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Elop is out.

    It would be funny to see Apple buy Bing. Instantly, Bing would be the default search engine on every Apple product including all the iPhones. Instantly, Google loses a large amount of income since Apple users make up a large part of Google’s advertising income.

  • Constable Odo

    As an Apple shareholder I’d be all for it. I definitely want Apple to acquire a search engine and go head to head with Google. Google has almost no competition in the U.S. apart from Bing and Yahoo. Apple needs to strike back at Google’s core business for what Google did with Android in an attempt to ruin Apple’s core mobile business. I still use Google search but I also like using Bing. If only Apple would just expand its business further with some non-hardware projects. I could easily see Apple getting people to switch from Google search if they put Apple/Bing search on all Apple iOS devices. Apple should definitely go after Bing if Microsoft ever decides to sell it off. Please, Apple, get a search engine. If not Bing, then some other popular search engine and don’t let Google just walk away with all the profits in search.

  • Mike

    I don’t think MS will ever sell BING per se. It is revenue negative the same way OSX is. It’s not sold, it’s a feature baked into Windows devices. I could see, however, MS selling off a portion of their interest in BING to both Apple and Facebook so they do not rely too heavily on a competitor to their own products. I think the fact that Google has made Chrome and by default, the Google store available via browser on MAC’s and PC’s cant be sitting well with either. Plus if they ever do that on the mobile side of devices, there would be a complete end run around the App Store for Apple devices. Better to start fighting google now then wait.

  • Luis Alejandro Masanti

    One Steve Jobs’ comment that stroke me was when I said that (words mine): “At Apple, we are so proud of what we had done as of what we had not done.” (When asked, I told about a PDA.)

    From this perspective, better than suggesting that ‘Apple buys Bing,’ I think I would be more interesting I we thought why Apple has hot invest in a (full scale) search engine.

    From the same perspective, we have to evaluate the meme “Apple could do better,” maybe it is based in ‘not doing’ a lot of things. They just ‘wisely’ select in what areas to work.

    Bing and Google are in the business of ‘search paid by ads.’ Apple in the business of ‘selling devices,’ as often cited by Tim Cook. So, I suppose that Apple will delete the ‘user’s data gattering’ that is the important part of the purchase.
    In that sense, to get a ‘search fundation’ for the global Spotlight maybe it would be better to buy DuckDuckGo.

    If we follow Apple’s history of development, Apple will buy small companies or technology and then will assemble a global engine… maybe with great pain: me, Maps, Siri, etc.

    In short, I do not think it is a good idea.