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Could Yahoo Unseat Google as iPhone's Default Search Engine?

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CEO Marissa Mayer is allegedly pushing for Yahoo to become the search engine that's shippped with Apple's mobile devices, including iPads. But is that really feasible?

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Last year, it was reported that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) were ready to take their relationship to the next level. According to the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo was intent on strengthening its position in mobile and was looking to play a larger role in delivering content to the iPhone, essentially unseating Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) as iOS' default search engine.
 
Although little came from that report in the way of tangible results, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer (seen in photo below) is allegedly keeping that dream alive. Re/code's Kara Swisher reports that becoming iPhone's default search engine is Mayer's "secret plan."
 
Swisher writes, "A number of Yahoo insiders I have talked to said her plan to pitch Apple on the idea as its marquee mobile search partner is far along. The company has prepared detailed decks, including images of what such a search product would look like, and hopes to present them to Apple execs."
 
Currently, Yahoo powers the stock weather apps for iOS, and can be set as a device's default search engine with a tweak in settings. But becoming the official search client by default is a goal that just might not be viable or tenable for Mayer and Co.
 
As we all saw with the global fiasco that was the Apple Maps launch, swapping a useful, tried-and-true Google service -- especially one in which Mountain View is undeniably head and shoulders above the competition -- for a service still fresh from being coded and without adequate testing is a recipe for disaster. Users vehemently opposed the switch, particularly due to Apple's decision to eliminate Google Maps from the App Store, and openly mocked the glitches and poor execution peppered throughout Apple's nascent alternative. It wasn't until CEO Tim Cook apologized and allowed Google Maps back onto the iPhone that users finally calm down.
 
With that controversy still fresh in Cupertino's mind, it's highly unlikely that Apple would dare test iPhone users' patience with another Google drop and risk iPhone users clamoring for more Google products in an Apple device. (See: Google Has Destroyed Apple's Walled Garden From Within.)
 
Now granted, a switch to Yahoo search will likely not prohibit users from resetting the default back to Google, but it would be another case of changing a reliable service for one many would consider -- simply by virtue of usage numbers -- a sub-par option. Even making Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Bing, which powers the voice search results for Siri, the default would likely please a greater number of users: According to comScore, Bing sites amount to 18.4% of the search share in the US, compared to Yahoo's 10.3%. Google, however, tops them all with a share of 67.5% of US searches.
 
It should also be noted that Yahoo no longer has core search technology. While it's possible to do a search on yahoo.com, Bing is responsible for the results that are spat back. Although Mayer has plans to re-enter the algorithmic search and search advertising games, as Swisher indicates in her article, it's difficult to see an end product that's as advanced or reliable as Google or even Bing when it debuts.
 
Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land put it thusly: "In the years since Yahoo last did search, the amount of information to comb through on the Web has increased -- meaning much more noise to draw signal from." He adds that there have been "no signs that Yahoo is out busy crawling the Web in order to build an index of all those pages -- and that's one of the things you want to do fairly soon, to ensure that you can not only store everything but also have good algorithms to pull the good stuff out in response to a search."
 
Sullivan concludes that if Apple were to go with a Google alternative by default, it would most likely choose Bing, which, he writes, "has already been proving itself, and which owns the Bing technology firsthand, rather than Yahoo which merely leases the Bing technology."
 
And it's not like Microsoft wouldn't have a say in the matter, either.
 
It's admirable that Mayer is aiming high with what would be one of the biggest changes to happen to iOS core functionality, but lofty goals are no match for the harsh realities that Apple must consider before risking reliability and user goodwill just to stick it to a company its former CEO promised to go "thermonuclear war" on.

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