Eddy Cue in Court, Defending Apple’s Lucrative Search Deal With Google

David Pierce, reporting for The Verge:

Eddy Cue, in a dark suit, peered down at the monitor in front of him. The screens in the Washington, DC, courtroom had briefly malfunctioned and left witnesses with only binders, but now the tech was up and running — showing an image of three iPhones, each demonstrating a part of the phone’s setup process. Cue squinted down at the screen.

“The resolution on this is terrible,” he said. “You should get a Mac.” That got some laughs in an otherwise staid and quiet courtroom. Judge Amit Mehta, presiding over the case, leaned into his microphone and responded, “If Apple would like to make a donation…” That got even bigger laughs. Then everybody got back down to business.

Genuinely funny, and genuinely an Eddy Cue moment.

Meagan Bellshaw, a Justice Department lawyer, asked Cue if he would have walked away from the deal if the two sides couldn’t agree on a revenue-share figure. Cue said he’d never really considered that an option: “I always felt like it was in Google’s best interest, and our best interest, to get a deal done.” Cue also argued that the deal was about more than economics and that Apple never seriously considered switching to another provider or building its own search product. “Certainly there wasn’t a valid alternative to Google at the time,” Cue said. He said there still isn’t one.

Here we get to the heart of the matter. Say what you will about alternatives like Bing and DuckDuckGo (which is powered by Bing results), but they are — I say — at least “valid” alternatives to Google for web search. I’ve been using Kagi — a paid search engine with plans starting at $5/month — for about a year and there’s no question in my mind that I’m getting as good or better results than I do from Google for the overwhelming majority of my searches. Apple could switch, quality-wise. Whether they could switch and maintain any semblance of the profits they reap from their deal with Google, I do not know.

So as Google’s search result quality deteriorates — but their ability to monetize their search monopoly remains strong — Apple looks bad too.

Thursday, 12 October 2023