It was one of those blink-and-you-miss-it moments. In Monday's WWDC keynote, Apple executive Eddy Cue was running through the new iOS 7 version of Siri, when he happened to mention Siri's default search function would be powered by Bing, not Google.
That means the first default search engine on Apple's voice assistant, baked into 600 million iPhones, will be brought to you by Microsoft. It's a huge win for the giant of Redmond, which has long been hunting for more fronts to open up on Google in the search wars. "We are excited to work with Apple to deliver Bing to Siri users this fall," Microsoft VP for Bing Derrick Connell said in a statement.
For those of us raised in the tech world of the 1990s, a decade that saw Apple at war with Microsoft in the courtroom, this was an especially bizarre alliance. Yes, Steve Jobs put an end to that legal wrangling when he returned to the CEO role in 1997 and got Bill Gates to invest $150 million in Apple. But that was an enormously controversial move that had longtime Apple fans up in arms when Jobs announced it at Macworld. Cue's statement barely registered with the WWDC audience. Besides, the 1997 pact was absolutely necessary; Microsoft was considering dropping support for Office on the Mac.
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This time, Apple went to Microsoft from a position of strength, and Microsoft was only too eager to comply. The 2000s, when Microsoft got upset at those "I'm a PC" ads and may have started to regret its investment, were set aside. The two old rivals, it seems, have a common enemy in Google.
Now we should be careful not to overstate the case. Siri will still recognize the word "Google;" she (or he) will just take you off to search in the Safari browser, rather than giving you the results there and then. It's a subtle nudge, rather like Instagram removing support for Twitter cards once it was owned by Facebook. (Has the number of Instagrams you've viewed on Twitter since that change dropped off? Mine too.)
Over time, given the speedier results, you'll probably learn to say "search" to Siri, rather than "Google." It's just the latest in a series of attempted nudges by Apple, which also unceremoniously removed its YouTube app last year, and replaced its Google Maps app with the infamous Apple Maps a year earlier than it needed to. (Okay, that one didn't work out so well.) There are rumors in Silicon Valley that in this case, Google refused to allow search engine integration in Siri because it wouldn't get any ad revenue out of the deal.
It's not exactly the "thermonuclear war" that Jobs threatened to wage on Google over Android, which he saw as copying iOS. There are still ways in which Apple and Google cooperate. For instance, Safari will still use Google as its default search in iOS 7. (But come back to me on that when they release iOS 8.) The battle lines are more clearly drawn. Tim Cook slung more Apple-boosting statistical zingers at Android during the keynote than he did at Windows.
Indeed, many designers have suggested that the look of iOS 7 pays indirect homage to Windows Phone 8 and Microsoft doesn't seem to mind at all. The Siri decision could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Tim Cook and Steve Ballmer.
Image by Mashable, Lance Ulanoff