July 6, 2022

As Web Search Goes Mobile, Competitors Chip at Google’s Lead

Either way, Google lost a customer.

Google remains the undisputed king of search, with about two-thirds of the market. But the nature of search is changing, especially as more people search for what they want to buy, eat or learn on their mobile devices. This has put the $22 billion search industry, perhaps the most lucrative and influential of online businesses, at its most significant crossroad since its invention.

No longer do consumers want to search the Web like the index of a book — finding links at which a particular keyword appears. They expect new kinds of customized search, like that on topical sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor or Amazon, which are chipping away at Google’s hold. Google and its competitors are trying to develop the knowledge and comprehension to answer specific queries, not just point users in the right direction.

“What people want is, ‘You ask a very simple question and you get a very simple answer,’ ” said Oren Etzioni, a professor at the University of Washington who has co-founded companies for shopping and flight search. “We don’t want the 10 blue links on that small screen. We want to know the closest sushi place, make a reservation and be on our way.”

People are overwhelmed at how crowded the Internet has become — Google says there are 30 trillion Web addresses, up from 1 trillion five years ago — and users expect their computers and phones to be smarter and do more for them. Many of the new efforts are services that people do not even think of as search engines.

Amazon, for example, has a larger share than Google of shopping searches, the most lucrative kind because people are in the mood to buy something. On sites like Pinterest and Polyvore, users have curated their favorite things from around the Web to produce results when you search for, say, “lace dress.”

On smartphones, people skip Google and go directly to apps, like Kayak or Weather Underground. Other apps send people information, like traffic or flight delays, before they even ask for it.

People use YouTube to search for things like how to tie a bow tie, Siri to search on their iPhones, online maps to find local places and Facebook to find things their friends have liked.

And services like LinkedIn Influencers and Quora are trying to be different kinds of search engines — places to find high-quality, expert content and avoid weeding through everything else on the Web. On Quora, questions like “What was it like to work for Steve Jobs?” get answered by people with firsthand knowledge, something Google cannot provide.

“There is a lot of pressure on search engines to deliver more customized, more relevant results,” said Shar VanBoskirk, an analyst at Forrester. “Users don’t need links to Web pages. We need answers, solutions, whatever intel we were searching for.”

But Google remains the one to beat, even as alternative search sites become popular. “They’re the specialty store you’re going into here and there,” said Danny Sullivan, an editor of Search Engine Land, a blog, “but they’re not your grocery store.”

Yet the promise of search is big enough that even though Microsoft loses billions of dollars a year on Bing and has failed to make a dent in Google’s market share, it keeps at it. Microsoft — which in February had 17 percent of the market, and 26 percent including the searches it powered for Yahoo — has said it views search as essential to its other products, from the Xbox to phones. And there is still a lot of money to be made as No. 2.

“You have millions of people a day saying exactly what they want, and if you’re an advertiser, it’s a beautiful vehicle,” Mr. Sullivan said.

EMarketer estimates that Google earns about three-quarters of search ad spending. Search engines bring companies troves of data and a measure of control as Internet users’ entry point to the digital world.

There are signs that people’s search behaviors are changing, however, with consequences for these companies.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/04/technology/as-web-search-goes-mobile-apps-chip-at-googles-lead.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Jobs Says Apple Made Mistakes With iPhone Data

“We haven’t been tracking anybody,” Mr. Jobs said in an interview on Wednesday. “Never have. Never will.”

Mr. Jobs said that Apple would fix the mistakes in a free software update that it would release in the next few weeks.

Mr. Jobs, who is currently on medical leave, addressed the issue along with two Apple executives — Philip W. Schiller, the senior vice president of worldwide product marketing, and Scott Forstall, the senior vice president of iPhone software. A week ago, two researchers reported that they had discovered a file in Apple’s devices containing what appeared to be data of the locations visited by users over the previous 12 months. The discovery raised fears that Apple was tracking its users and prompted investigations by various European governments and demands for explanations from United States lawmakers.

Earlier on Wednesday, Apple posted a statement on its Web site explaining how its system used the file to pinpoint a phone’s location.

Mr. Jobs defended the timing of Apple’s response to the controversy, saying that “rather than run to the P.R. department,” it set out to determine exactly what happened.

“The first thing we always do when a problem is brought to us is we try to isolate it and find out if it is real,” he said. “It took us about a week to do an investigation and write a response, which is fairly quick for something this technically complicated.”

He added, “Scott and Phil and myself were all involved in writing the response because we think it is that important.”

Some privacy advocates who were harshly critical of Apple last week praised the company’s response, saying they were steps in the right direction.

“Apple acknowledged a mistake and they fixed it,” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said in an interview. “That’s a good thing.”

Mr. Rotenberg said the industry still had to address issues about collecting and using location data.

Confirming speculation from some security researchers, Apple said in the statement posted on its Web site that the file in people’s iPhones was not a log of their location but rather “the locations of Wi-Fi hot spots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone’s location, which can be more than one hundred miles away from the iPhone.”

Apple said it used the data, which it called a cache, to calculate a device’s location more quickly than through GPS satellites.

But Apple acknowledged that it had made mistakes, which it attributed to programming errors, in storing the data for a long time, keeping the file unencrypted and storing the data even when users had chosen to turn off location services.

“The system is incredibly complex,” Mr. Forstall said. “We test this carefully but in such a complex system there are sometimes places where we could do better.”

Apple said it would reduce the location cache on the iPhone to no more than seven days. The company also said it would stop backing up the cache onto people’s computers and would delete the cache entirely when users turned off location services.

Apple also said that it updated its database of Wi-Fi hot spots and cell towers by using its customers’ phones as sensors. But it said that it could not locate users based on the file on the phone, and that it collected the information in an anonymous and encrypted form. The company cannot identify the phone user from the data, it said.

While some security experts have known about the existence of the file for some time, the issue made headlines last week after the researchers reported their findings at a technology conference in San Francisco. Apple came under heavy criticism for its silence after the discovery.

The location report attracted attention from some government officials, including Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, who sent a stern letter to Apple asking why it was “secretly compiling” the data and what it would be used for. Congressman Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, also sent letters to Apple asking for an explanation of the issue.

Google acknowledged last week that it, too, collected data about the location of Wi-Fi hot spots and cell towers from its users.

Apple’s statement contained a tidbit about possible future product plans. The company said it also was collecting traffic data from its phones and tablets to build a crowd-sourced traffic database. That would enable Apple to provide real-time traffic information along with navigation advice. Google already uses Android phones to collect real-time traffic information.

Mr. Jobs declined to answer questions about his health or about any plans to return to Apple. Last week, during the company’s quarterly financial report, Timothy D. Cook, the chief operating officer, said, “He continues to be involved in major strategic decisions, and I know he wants to be back full time.”

Nick Bilton contributed reporting from New York.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/technology/28apple.html?partner=rss&emc=rss