Search in 2015 – default search engines in browsers will see a sea change: Google is losing ground to Microsoft and Yahoo.

Google Loses Firefox Browser Share

Beginning this December, Firefox’s default search provider in the United States, which has been Google, will change to Yahoo. This 5-year deal could help boost Yahoo’s smaller search market share, and increase revenue for itself and Firefox. Though the financial terms of the deal remain confidential, we do know that the deal is based on a revenue-sharing agreement that includes specific “guarantees.”

Mozilla, the company which owns Firefox, will keep Google in the EU, but push it out as the default search provider in other countries. In China, the default search engine will be Baidu, and in Russia, the default provider will be Yandex NV.

But Firefox isn’t the only threat to Google’s search market share…

Apple Search in 2015

Safari’s default search engine is also Google, but that deal is up in 2015. And other engines are competing for Apple’s piece of the pie, including Bing and Yahoo.

Currently, Bing powers Apple’s Siri and Spotlight Search on the Mac. Apple may choose to divide up its search by geographic regions, as Firefox has done with its 2015 search deals. But if Bing wins the negotiations, which is likely, then we may see Bing-fueled search across all Apple devices.

There is also speculation that Apple may be testing its own search engine. A developer discovered that Apple has its own “mysterious” web crawling bot, though there has been no official word from Apple regarding the crawler or its purpose. The evidence thus far is highly circumstantial, but the move into search would certainly make sense for the tech giant.

Other details from the Apple deal may reveal some developments in the relationship between Yahoo and Microsoft.

Yahoo vs. Bing

Though Yahoo search results are still powered by Microsoft, Yahoo and Bing are both competing for the Apple deal. This suggests that Yahoo may be looking to separate from Microsoft as soon as possible. While the Apple deal would still put money in Microsoft’s pocket in either case, other deals, such as Yahoo’s Gemini mobile search, lie outside the Microsoft-Yahoo alliance.

Additionally, the aforementioned deal with Firefox and Yahoo continues to be fueled by Microsoft’s search results, based on an agreement made between Microsoft and Yahoo in 2010. That deal is set to expire in another six years.

Yahoo may have dreams of loosening the Microsoft leash – and its deal with Firefox may help facilitate this goal – but the search engine still has a long hill to climb towards independence. Earlier in 2014, Yahoo’s desktop search market share hit 9.8%, an all-time low for the company. Yahoo’s mobile search share was still below 10% in the United States in July. However, that number rose slightly to 10.44% in November.

Default search in browsers, 2014


2015: Who Will Be King and What Does the Future Hold?

The same statistics that revealed Yahoo’s dismal market share also show that Google still holds the overwhelming lead, with almost 84% of the market share in November 2014. Likewise, Google’s Chrome browser holds a 33.5% market share, versus Firefox’s 10.4%. So, despite the Firefox deal, Google will still be ahead of the game…even if Apple moves toward Bing or Yahoo.

Microsoft has even admitted that Bing’s gains probably won’t come at Google’s expense. Instead, its efforts in 2015 and beyond will likely focus on natural language search, predictive search, and conversational search, through Cortana and other apps that many people use on a daily basis.

For years, Google has also been focusing on natural language processing, semantic search, and search by voice, which is becoming more and more common. In fact, over 50% of teens and over 40% of adults already use voice search at least once a day.

Like Siri or Cortana, Google’s search will speak back to you. But Google is taking this a step further by integrating search with actions, through Google Now Actions. These allow developers to take advantage of Google’s speech recognition and natural language processing technology, then turn those into Android intents delivered to apps.

There are two main takeaways that these trends and developments can tell us about 2015 and the future of search:

  • Search isn’t just becoming mobile, it’s becoming app-centric. As the Microsoft CEO stated, and as the Google Now Actions reveals, search is working its way into apps. The reason for this is simple – mobile apps are already dominating people’s mobile internet usage. Search is already able to respond vocally, and as more developers integrate their apps with search engines’ voice capabilities, we’ll see more and more apps that are able to respond with actions of their own.
  • Search isn’t just becoming vocal, it’s becoming the new user interface. As more people begin to access their apps through voice search, search may evolve into something akin to a vocal user interface, rather than just a search engine. The ability to check on tomorrow’s weather, queue up music, or order a pizza, for instance, has more in common with an app or recommendation engine than it does with a search engine.

Although Google has lost the Firefox deal – and though it may lose the Apple deal – its dominance is in no way threatened by these developments. In 2015 and beyond, we will likely see search develop into highly personalized voice-driven interfaces, through which we access our apps and the mobile web.