Apple's updated Spotlight search: Powered by Bing?

Apple's updated Spotlight search capability in OS X 'Yosemite' includes tighter integration with Microsoft's Bing search.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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."


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