The Financial Times reports that with the iOS 14, iPhones now show direct links to websites when users enter queries from the home screen (Spotlight).
“That web search capability marks an important advance in Apple’s in-house development and could form the foundation of a fuller attack on Google, according to several people in the industry,” FT notes.
The change is subtle and has gone mostly unnoticed. The iPhone’s Spotlight search is typically used when you want to find something locally like a buried app, note, or text conversation. So most users would not think to try using it for searching the internet. As a search engine, it performed poorly in our tests, but does work for some search terms (above).
The inclusion of internet queries in Spotlight has not affected Google’s deal with Apple. The search giant still pays between $8 billion and $12 billion per year to Cupertino to keep it as the default search. This “rental fee” is up from $3 billion in 2017. However, industry experts say Apple could be positioning itself to bring its search algorithms more mainstream if regulators come between the deal.
At this point, this s nothing more than conjecture by industry professionals, so take it with a grain or two of salt. Apple has not indicated any intention of entering the search engine business, but it typically holds its cards close to the vest, so it’s not out of the question.