Apple's updated Spotlight search: Powered by Bing?

Apple's updated Spotlight search: Powered by Bing?

Summary: Apple's updated Spotlight search capability in OS X 'Yosemite' includes tighter integration with Microsoft's Bing search.


A few years ago, stories were circulating about Apple's iCloud being powered behind the scenes by Microsoft Azure. Neither Microsoft nor Apple officials would comment, but the leaks claiming Apple's iCloud was using Azure on the back end were never disproven.


(I asked Microsoft officials again today whether Azure has a role of some kind in Apple's newly announced iCloud Drive storage offering. Again, no word.)

Cut to 2014. At Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple execs mentioned Bing a few times during their presentation about Apple's revised Spotlight search functionality. Spotlight allows users to type on their desktops (rather than clicking on the magnifying glass in the menu bar) to search for apps, documents and other information.

The role that Bing plays in this updated Spotlight scenario is fuzzy. Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land did a bang-up job to try to clarify where Bing comes into play.

Sullivan noted that Spotlight will display Bing search results, as well as search results from inside mail and calendar items, documents, contacts and more. It just so happens some of the search results listed for Spotlight overlap with the type of built-in search results in Bing (examples: Wikipedia results, movie times, news, etc.)

This doesn't necessarily mean that it's Bing that is generating these results. In fact, Apple execs called out Google a few times during today's WWDC keynote, too. If Spotlight offers a Web searches option, it launches Safari and runs a Google search, given that Google is the default on Safari, Sullivan explained. Despite that fact, there still is some type of tighter integration between Bing and Spotlight coming with Mac OS X "Yosemite" -- though seemingly not with Spotlight for iOS 8.

I've asked Microsoft officials for further clarification on how Bing plays into the revised Apple Spotlight. No word back so far.

Apple struck a search deal with Microsoft involving Siri last year. Users who asked Siri a question for which results were not pre-programmed by Apple see Web search results. With iOS7, Siri search defaulted to Bing for these Web results instead of Google. Supposedly, the updated Apple Spotlight technology comes close to replacing searches with a Siri-like experience (minus the voice input).

It's tough to know how much the Bing-Apple tie-ups are due to politics vs. technology. Can two turkeys -- I mean frenemies -- like Microsoft and Apple beat an eagle like Google?

Update: Microsoft officials said that Bing will be the default for Spotlight for both iOS 8 and Mac OS X Yosemite. From a statement from a Microsoft spokesperson:

"Last year Bing became the default web search for Siri, and will now also be the default web search provider in the redesigned Spotlight search feature for the next generation of iOS and OS X. We’re excited about extending the Bing platform to help iOS and Mac customers find what they need to get things done."

I asked for some additional details as to how the new Bing deal differs from the previous Siri Bing deal. From the same spokesperson:

"It is different from Siri in that Bing web searches will show up as a section when you search. Wikipedia will have its own section, but other specifics and info on how news search will be integrated aren’t available just yet."


Topics: Mobility, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Mobile OS


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • two turkeys make a sconx

    stay away from iCrap: now it has the worst of both worlds apple & M$!
    android wins!
    LlNUX Geek
    • Surprisingly

      I agree with you. Siri and Apple Maps are flawed and when you add Bing to the mix .... not sure if that makes it better if worse.
      • Bing

        Bing is actually a decent search engine. It needs to be relaunched with a new name. It has a Vista type stigma, but it has come a long, long way.
        • Really...

          You're the only person I've ever seen link Bing to Vista, which is itself an overplayed criticism of MS. But let's be real, Google is at least as dumb a name as Bing and Google slaps that crappy name on everything, and it's not just the name of a product or service as Bing is, it's the name of the whole company.
          widow maker
          • I agree

            I have to agree. I've never heard anyone link Vista and Bing. I've never really even ever heard much criticism of Bing. Maybe I'm wrong. I guess that's why Bing's share is slowly increasing. This whole notion that by working with Microsoft that Apple products are now even worse than they were is complete and utter BS It's nonsense and just an asinine statement to make.
      • Bing isn't even that bad.

        Google gets me better results, but only because I've been using it as my default search engine for years.

        Unless they're locked into Ask, I'm pretty sure that most people wouldn't be able to tell the functional difference between their search engines.
      • Whereas

        Google's products are flawless?
        widow maker
    • Android wins... if you like to be confused

      Give an Android phone and an iPhone to your grandparents and see which one they like to use better. Say what you will... Apple products may have their shortcomings in terms of flexibility, but iPhones work better and are by far easier to use. My in-laws recently got android phones, and they have the hardest time doing the simplest things. Sometimes you want your technology to assume something for you. The less you have to think about it, the more it is doing it's job.
    • Maybe this article will help....
  • Apple's updated Spotlight search: Powered by Bing?

    It would make sense since Microsoft Bing always provides relevant search results instead of spam links like Google does. Throw that technology into the desktop and you got a winner. That eagle that is Google is losing flight very quickly.
    • I see Google

      more as a turkey than an eagle.
  • There was a lot of Microsoft there . . .

    There was a lot of Microsoft at this keynote: Bing was shown a lot, Excel was shown briefly at the part about Enterprise, and many iOS home screens had Office in them. Also, some integration bits (like iCloud) apparently integrate with Windows.

    It's pretty interesting how much Microsoft showed up at a keynote about Apple.
    • its like the late 90s all over

      The whole Apple/Microsoft teaming up on things is much like when Jobs first returned to Apple.

      It makes sense given Apple and Microsofts long history as frenemies and the open patent deal between them.

      I haven't seen it but even the 'continuous working on your documents across devices' thing sounds like the feature that was added to Office 2013.
    • It does not surprise me

      The tech community often thinks Microsoft and Apple go after each other, but the reality of the situation the two companies have combined efforts in patent portfolios, typography R&D, cross licensing deals, cloud platforms, you name it.

      I think both regard Google and Android as their main threat and not each other. Since Microsoft and Apple go after different consumer segments, they're not really a big threat to one another.
      • Everyone Should

        Everyone should see Google as a threat. They're trying to move into way too many areas. All the criticism back in the day of what Microsoft could potentially become is child's play compared to everything Google is trying to get their hands into.
  • Pretty bright...

    On the part of MS to recognize early that Bing's true potential wasn't in taking the search crown from Google, but in being the back-end power of search related services. As fewer use search directly, instead having results served to them in app, those results being powered by Bing, rather than Google, is more important than search market share, which increasing appears to be an antiquated paradigm.
    widow maker
  • Bing Translate *only*

    In the WWDC keynote, the Spotlight part of the demo showed how *plugins* now work with it. Specifically, they demoed using Bing Translate. I'm not sure why this article acts like it doesn't know that. Nothing in the keynote made it seem like Bing Search was powering Spotlight itself. It was a mention of the Translate plugin.
  • dreamer

  • what?

    They should use yahoo..