Can Apple reinvent the meaning of ’search’ ?

You may not associate Apple with “search” but in few years you will. As tech evangelist Scoble declared, with Siris acquisition Apple may very well have bought it’s way into the future web. Despite CEO Steve Jobs assertion that Apple will not enter “search” at D8 conference what he really means is that they would not do web search as it’s done now.

In simpler days web was just a collection of text and links. Google built its empire unlocking the potential of the web by making keywords based search the dominant way to  the access it. But that dominance may be coming to an end. We are in the midst of another revolutionary transformation as the web morphs itself into a richer collection of services, APIs and apps along with text and links. Along the way the web is getting smarter about what it holds. Call it semantic web or deep web or Web 3.0 or any other term you want to call it but the transformation is real … albeit slow.

In this future web we will no longer be limited to typing keywords into a bland search box and clicking incessantly back and forth until you are satiated. We may no longer need to play guessing games with search engines and change queries multiple times in a session. We need not feel less intelligent because we didn’t type in the “right” keywords. We need not restrict search to information finding tasks. We will have new capacities to harness the web in completely different ways. We will be able to accomplish more complex tasks with lot more ease and in lot less time.

Siri gives us glimpses of where we are headed. We will have Siri like virtual agents that find us cheap tickets, book tables, schedule appointments, recommend movies, call a taxi, bid in an auction, pull reference information and more. One day we do not have to type into a search engine [what are the top restaurants in my local area?] and wade through pages and pages of text and links. Instead we can have our own personalized virtual agents pull that information from multiple sources or APIs, filter which restaurants have our favorite dishes on the menu, find availability of tables and display ratings from our friends, all in one search. The presentation interface will also be customized to the task at hand making it lot more efficient and easier to consume. If you are a smart phone user you already are aware of how different apps presents information in a domain and context specific way. For example a sports app will have a much different user experience than a calendar app or a restaurant app.

There are three main forces at work that are accelerating this transformation of the web.

  1. The web has become more social and real time – Adding this layer of filtering has improved the relevance and utility of information manifold beyond traditional web search.
  2. Every offline service is moving to the “cloud” and is making itself available in many ways – through APIs, through mobile applications, through web services, each making themselves consumable any time and on any device.
  3. A portion of the web economy may soon become the app economy where more and more services are accessed as ‘apps’ and are paid accordingly. This fundamentally changes the current click based search engine economy as more purchasing dollars shift to this new way of doing business.

This transformation will not mean end of keyword search but certainly a big portion of it will no longer be keyword or click based. Which companies and startups will win in this future web is unpredictable but the transformation is real and Apple just entered the fray with Siris acquisition.

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