In 2018, Apple was considering a major move that could have changed the landscape of online search: buying Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, or at least investing billions of dollars in a joint venture with the software giant. This is according to a recently unsealed transcript of testimony from John Giannandrea, Apple’s senior vice president of machine learning and AI strategy, and a former Google executive.
Giannandrea’s testimony was part of the ongoing antitrust case against Google, where the Department of Justice is trying to prove that Google has used its contracts with Apple and other companies to exclude its search rivals and maintain its monopoly. Google pays Apple as much as $19 billion per year to be the default search engine on Apple products, according to an estimate.
Giannandrea said that Apple was exploring alternatives to Google for some of its search features, such as Siri and Spotlight, and that Microsoft had approached Apple with an offer to collaborate on Bing. He said that he believed that Apple CEO Tim Cook had met with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in the summer of 2018, which sparked internal discussions at Apple about the possibility of partnering with Bing.
According to Giannandrea, Apple’s head of business development Adrian Perica had prepared an internal presentation where he outlined four scenarios for Apple and Microsoft: growing Siri organically, collaborating on building a technology called “Knowledge Graph”, co-owning Bing, or acquiring Bing.
However, the deal with Microsoft never materialised and Giannandrea said he believed that Cook had told Nadella that Apple was not interested in going forward. “Obviously, if we entered into a joint venture with Bing, it would have implications for the Google relationship,” Giannandrea said in his testimony last week, according to a transcript viewed by CNBC.
Giannandrea also suggested several times during his testimony that he was not convinced that Bing would be a significant improvement over Google for Apple’s search features. He said that he had worked on Search at Google before joining Apple in 2018 and that he was familiar with the challenges and complexities of building a high-quality search engine.
Apple executives have maintained that they chose Google as their default search engine because it is the best one available, not mainly because of the payments they receive from Google.