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Google once asked Apple to preload its search app on iOS

Google once asked Apple to preload its search app on iOS


Apple famously doesn’t preload third-party software onto its devices — but CEO Tim Cook thought about it at least once.

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Illustration by Cath Virginia / The Verge

In late 2018, Google CEO Sundar Pichai floated a bold idea to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Cook had just told Pichai he wanted to be “deep, deep partners, deeply connected where our services end and yours begin,” according to notes from the meeting. Pichai responded with a proposal: What if Apple preinstalled a Google Search app on every iOS device?

Exactly what that would have looked like — a full-blown app, a native widget, some reinvention of the Spotlight feature — is hard to say. But Pichai’s case to Apple, revealed during the CEO’s testimony in the US v. Google antitrust trial today, was simple. Google had seen that the Google app and widget were popular on Android and drove people to do more searching. More Google searches on Apple devices would mean more revenue for Apple, thanks to the two companies’ wildly lucrative search agreement. Everybody wins. Pichai even posited that Google would promise to maintain the built-in Google service for 20 years.

Apple, of course, did not go for the deal. The company famously doesn’t preload third-party software on its devices, and Apple’s Eddy Cue said in his own testimony in this case that Apple likely never would. (It did kind of once include Google Maps and YouTube, but those were technically Apple-made apps and were removed in iOS 6. Still, those might be an interesting model for what Google was proposing.) But given the unprecedented scope of the deal between the two companies and the ramifications both sides feared if it fell apart, Pichai clearly thought it was worth a shot.

Pichai testified in DC District Court on Monday as part of Google’s defense against the Department of Justice’s antitrust allegations. As expected, the Apple / Google search deal was once again a key focus of the day. Pichai said that he and Cook met about once a year to talk about the state of their deal, which makes Google the default search engine on Apple products and brings Apple many billions of dollars a year.

In 2018, Pichai said in testimony, Apple was concerned about a decline in revenue growth from their rev-share deal. Google’s overall revenue was growing much faster than the revenue Apple was getting from the partnership, executives complained — what gives? Google responded with a few ideas about what might be causing the discrepancy. The list included Siri Suggestions, a newish Apple product that aimed to help users get where they were going faster for some queries rather than sending everything to Google. But Google also pointed out, according to notes shared after the meeting by partnerships executive Don Harrison, that “Google is not in control of the amount or type of traffic received by Safari; Apple is.

That’s when Pichai made his case. “When discussing how to encourage search,” Harrison’s emailed notes read, “[Pichai] spoke about the fact that this is what we do — people trust us to get this right and trust us with the content of what they are searching for — and weaved in them considering us building an app or other experience that people associate with us and connect to us (vs. flowing through Siri/suggest.) Tim listened but did not react to this specifically other than noting we had different strengths.”

When asked about these emails in court, Pichai said he was simply trying to find ways for everyone to get what they wanted. “We said one of the things that works well on Android, which drives increased usage, is a Google Search application. So I proposed that we could build a Google search application for iOS... and we would be committed to supporting the product for many years.”

Pichai’s testimony covered a lot of ground, from his concept of attorney-client privilege to Google’s feisty legal reaction to Internet Explorer 7’s launch in 2005. But it was the Apple deal, as always in this case, that seemed to linger over everything.

Update Oct. 30th, 3:30PM ET: Updated to note that Google Maps and YouTube were once preinstalled apps on iPhones. Which was weird.