Last week, an article from tech blog Coywolf lit a fire under rumors that Apple could soon launch a search engine to compete with Google. The story went viral on Reddit, and it’s easy to see why. Fans (read: shareholders) have long speculated and hoped that the company would create a search engine so that Apple, already the most valuable company in the world, could grow to even more gargantuan proportions.
The evidence author Jon Henshaw lays out seems convincing, too. Google pays billions to Apple to remain its default search engine on Safari and iOS devices, and UK regulators, who have a track record of cracking down on Google, are looking to break up the deal. Should that happen, Apple would be perfectly positioned to launch its own engine and thrive without a Google partnership, especially since Apple has been bolstering its existing search tools like Siri Spotlight and web crawler Applebot.
It’s easy to get excited about Apple launching a service that could make stocks go crazy, but our advice is to cool your expectations. Our data shows that no, Apple is probably not about to launch a search engine. Let’s explain why.
Over the last three years, our data shows that job listings on Apple’s site for “Search” or “Search Engineer” positions have increased meaningfully from about 30 listings throughout 2017 to about 70 throughout 2020 so far, which helps explain the improvements to Applebot and Siri Spotlight. But that is still only 70 people who are theoretically working towards building a search engine, and job listings with these keywords took a notable dive over the last month down to 53.
By comparison, Google revealed in its latest quarterly filing that its employee count was 127,498 as of June, and that the largest headcount additions by product were for Google Cloud and Search. That’s not just an anomaly for this quarter, either. The same language was used in its Q1 2020 filing, as well as in its yearly filing for 2019. Between its Q1 and Q2 filings, Google claims to have hired 4,450 employees - we can reasonably assume that a large portion of those hires are dedicated to its search engine. If the rumors are true, Apple’s 70 or so listings pale in comparison to the hundreds or possibly even thousands of new additions each month that Google devotes to simply maintaining and updating its search engine.
The Coywolf article points to the huge number of job listings that pop up on Apple’s site when you search for “search engineers” as evidence that Apple is ramping up production on a search engine. Why, then, does our data only show 53 listings?
The answer is that Apple’s jobs site is not only searching for posts with “search engineer” in the title or description, but also those with “search” and “engineer,” substantially inflating the results. Our data shows that Apple currently has around 2,300 open listings that contain the keyword “engineer.” Maybe Apple should hire some search engineers to refine searches for search engineer jobs.
As some Redditors pointed out, similar articles to Coywolf’s have popped up throughout Apple's history, like when Applebot was first announced, and have routinely proven to be false or more indicative of other, smaller moves. Coywolf certainly lays out a compelling case, but a closer look at hiring data reveals that the fabled Apple search engine will remain just that for now.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.