How Search Engines End Up on Your Phone

Follow the money

Key Takeaways

  • Search engine developers pay to ensure that their software is on many devices. 
  • According to a recent report, Google could pay Apple $15 billion to remain the default search engine. 
  • There are plenty of alternative web browsers to Google, including Microsoft Edge.
Someone using voice search on a smartphone.

Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

It’s no accident that you probably use Google to search the web if you are using an iPhone.

Search engines often pay device manufacturers to preinstall software. Google could pay Apple $15 billion to remain the default search engine, according to a new investor note. The fact that major search engines are used by so many people shapes how users view the web. 

"Google pays browsers and platforms to be the default search engine, so they retain a high market share," search engine expert John Locke told Lifewire in an email interview. "Since AdWords is their main revenue source, the more people that use their search engine, the more people will be willing to pay for AdWords placement."

Paying for Results

Analyst Toni Sacconaghi said in the research note that Google's payments to remain the default search engine on the iPhone may have topped $10 billion in the fiscal year 2020.

"We now estimate that Google’s payments to AAPL to be the default search engine on iOS were ~$10B in FY 20, higher than our prior published model estimate of $8B," he wrote. "Recent disclosures in Apple’s public filings as well as a bottom-up analysis of Google’s TAC (traffic acquisition costs) payments each point us to this figure."

The practice of paying for search engines to be installed could prevent competition, some experts say. 

"Google is really good at delivering great search results, and their market share reflects that."

"This practice does help to stifle competition, as most users are unlikely to use an alternative to the default search engine," search engine expert Matt Benevento told Lifewire in an email interview. "Since August 2020, Google accounted for 91.86% of search engine market share worldwide."

With Android running on about four-fifths of the world’s smartphones, including hundreds of millions in Europe alone, "Google is becoming more powerful than governments themselves," Colin Pape of Presearch, a blockchain-based search engine, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Pape said that companies like Google and Microsoft should collect as little data as possible from users when they conduct web searches.  

"Having more data makes you a bigger target," he added. "The more data leaks happen within large organizations, the more people are becoming desensitized to them, which is the worst thing that can happen. This interferes with people’s right to data sovereignty."

Alternatives to Google

There are plenty of alternative web browsers to Google, including Microsoft Edge. 

"While Duck-Duck-Go has been a go-to for years for the more privacy-conscious," search engine expert Elizabeth Hunker told Lifewire in an email interview. "Brave has gained significant traction as a hybrid browser-wrapped search engine that gives control over shared data, ad experiences, and the engine that powers the pagination of results over to the user."

Closeup on someone holding a smartphone with a search bar superimposed on the picture.

Dilok Klaisataporn / EyeEm / Getty Images

But some experts say that no other browser can match Google’s sophistication. 

"I do not think it's possible to get a wide range of search results through Google's competitors," search engine consultant Zack Neary-Hayes told Lifewire in an email interview. "Google is simply too advanced, and its algorithms are so complex, that the functionality and search experience that Google offers cannot be matched."

Search engine consultant Tyler Suchman agreed. 

"While a user might opt for a search engine like DuckDuckGo for privacy reasons, they'd be unlikely to conduct a search on Bing due to inferior results on Google," he told Lifewire in an email interview. "Google is really good at delivering great search results, and their market share reflects that."

The best way to get more varied results is to understand Google itself, Neary-Hayes said.

"Be aware of how Google search works and understand some of the important factors that go into determining its search results, and be aware of how these may be at play when you are served search results," he added. "Also, learning the available search operators is a great way to find more information that is more customized to your particular needs."

Was this page helpful?