Siri Bings It On

At Apple’s 2013 WWDC, SVP Eddy Cue revealed a slew of new enhancements to their user interface under the iOS 7 upgrade, including a burgeoning partnership with Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Now, when iPhone users ask Siri a question, they will receive an answer from Bing instead of Google.  After the Google maps- iPhone debacle in 2012, it is logical to view the Bing deal as another Apple attempt to distance itself from Google.  This may be partially true but, as a corporation, Apple does not transform the way their iOS does conversational search simply to snub a competitor. What’s really behind Apple’s switch to Bing?

Let’s be honest, since “her” introduction, Siri has always been somewhat of a novelty feature – something that has never really been useful or caught on. After all, according to a Piper Jaffray June 2012 study, Siri boasts an unimpressive 62% accuracy rate. Search was not fully integrated into Siri’s system and as a result, search questions returned spotty answers that often linked users back to a Google search page where they could manually enter in search.  However, now powered by Bing, Apple is hoping users find that Siri is adept at fulfilling multi-part searches and users will more regularly use the on-the-go search function. With Bing’s support, Siri has the potential to become a major influence in shifting search to conversational rather than text-based.  Arguably, Google is the industry’s text search leader, but Apple has chosen to rely on Bing to further the conversational search capabilities on its devices. Has Apple seen that Bing is the better conversational search engine?

Conversational search is not new to the search narrative; Google and Bing have been exploring the possibility of evolving search to a more natural state with higher comprehension capabilities for quite some time. While Google was the first to tack multi-step questions successfully, this recent partnership win reveals that not only is Bing gaining on Google’s market share, but also its search enhancements. Bing has become decidedly more proficient in extrapolating separate parts of search and deciphering user intentions. With little search traffic, and the assumption that Apple is too smart to make the move to Bing purely out of spite, we have to assume Apple feels that Bing’s conversational technology is better.

Does this indicate an opportunity to break Google’s search market dominance? Perhaps they’re learning the lesson of Microsoft – that when your product/service becomes so entrenched in every web user’s daily routine, it is a risk to support and implement radically different technologies. There are too many user complaints possible and, moreover, too many search engineers with stock prices and job security on their minds. Although Apple may have selected Bing as the bearer of its search functions, the Google-Bing search debate is far from finished as both will undoubtedly continue to work toward a full-fledged, cross device conversational search system.

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