Changes on iOS 14, a significant update to the Applebot support page and an increase in crawling.
For years Google ways paying billions of dollars to Apple to stay the default search engine. But with UK authorities looking into the deal, and a more privacy aware customer group, this might no longer be good enough.
With competitors like Neeva around the corner and established players like DuckDuckGo. It isn't hard to see that there seems to be a market for a more privacy focused search engine. Apple also is aiming to become the protector of the wealthy in a data hungry age. Adding a search engine, which is one of the most used services in the world, in a privacy aware default setting makes sense for Apple.
Some hints that Apple is going in this direction
👉 They want the money from Google, but they don't need it
👉 Several hundreds search focused engineering roles open on the job page
👉 Spotlight shows web search results in iOS 14 and bypass Google
👉 Applebot web crawler page got updated (equal to Googlebot)
A search engine makes also complete sense for Apple. Having a deep integration with the device and making it personal adds to the Apple experience. It also is likely that we will not see the basic search box interaction, there is no need to create a web based version. Which opens up the opportunity to re-think search and user interaction.
Some points Neeva lists as an advantage can Apple do much better. Understanding search as a universal tool through all data, from public to private. The phone number from that distant cousin, the last tax report, the photo you took, or that e-mail you send.
This makes for a great step, many people argue that creating a search engine from scratch is a very difficult job. But the reality is that it has never been easier plus Google is not pacing ahead when it comes to personalization. Having also the necessary of running Ads lowers the user experience. Apple will also show Ads at a certain point, but they are less reliant on it.
Before every SEO starts to panic in this field, Apple will most likely not overtake Google as a search engine. Since the approach is much more focused around Apple powered devices. But as people rightful mention, Apple users are one of the best customer audiences you can get.