How Apple's Siri Could Put A Major Dent In Google's Core Search Business

Includes: AAPL, GOOG, MSFT
by: Christopher Mackenzie

Scott Huffman, Engineering Director, Search Quality at Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) once said, "It's hard to type on these little devices" and "Wouldn't it be easier if we didn't have to type at all?"

I couldn't' agree more with this quote, as the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier. Nothing is easier than just saying what you want and receiving a quick reply. Look no further than HAL 9000, who used speech recognition, natural language processing, and lip reading to control the spacecraft Discovery One for David Bowman and Franke Poole in the movie "Space Odyssey." The only problem in this case is that HAL didn't make Franke Poole's life any easier when HAL {spoiler alert} killed Poole.

The current method of keyboard inputted search inquiries has worked perfectly on Desktop PCs. It's far from being the most natural method of search inquiries on smartphones, tablets and the emerging wearable connected devices, where a keyboard will not necessarily be a viable option. Google's highly anticipated Google Glass device is a perfect example, as it uses voice commands such as "OK Glass," to initiate a search.

So what's holding Conversational Search back right now? It's the underlying voice recognition software itself.

When Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) launched its natural language user interface, better known as Siri back in 2010, it was billed as a personal assistant that could do it all. Siri had partnered with 42 web services that included: Opentable (NASDAQ:OPEN), Yelp (NYSE:YELP), Wikipedia, and Wolfram. Siri had support search from Google , Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) BING and Yahoo! (YHOO). The web service partners' job is to assist Siri in finding the answer to a user's question first, and then default to one of the three support search partners if the partners don't have the answer.

Anyone who is familiar with Siri can tell you it is at times very helpful for things like sports scores, simple math calculation, checking the weather, or setting reminders. Siri even pulls off a few good jokes every now and again, just try prompting with "OK Glass" and listen to its caddy replies.

Unfortunately, most of the time Siri can be a hair pulling, annoying interaction depending on how the user handles the cadence of voice, clarity and dictation. Even then, there is no guarantee Siri will work optimally.

But what if Siri worked as well, as originally hyped? What if Siri was as good as HAL?

Apple obviously understands the future of search and has been working diligently, hiring key people in the field of speech recognition, to get closer to that HAL effectiveness. After all, since its 2010 launch, Siri has yet to lose the product's original Beta tag.

Some of the notable hires at Apple's Kendall Square satellite office, located conveniently near MIT Cambridge Campus, is former (NASDAQ:AMZN) and AltaVista Search Guru, Bill Stasior, who has been tapped to run the Siri unit. AllthingsD speculated that Stasior is: "presumably, strengthening Apple's search and search advertising technology in the wake of its increasing competition with Google."

The other notable hires consist of Larry Gillick, Chief Speech Scientist with Siri who was hired in March 2013. Gillick was a former Vice President of research at Nuance, and Chief Scientist at EnglishCentral, a web portal that seeks to teach English via online videos. Another hire, Don McAllaster, as Senior Research Scientist, and who was a Principal Research Scientist at Nuance Communications (NASDAQ:NUAN), and also worked for EnglishCentral.

Unfortunately, we won't get to see what they have been busy working on until Apple releases iOS7 on September 10, and Apple has yet to state if the new and improved Siri will finally drop the Beta tag. All we have are hints found in Apple's statements:

Siri in iOS 7 gets a new look, a new sound, and new capabilities. It features a redesigned interface that fades into view - on top of whatever's on your screen. A clearer, more natural-sounding female or male voice makes Siri even easier to understand. It's faster at answering questions, and it checks more sources, such as Bing, Wikipedia, and Twitter. And Siri takes on extra tasks, like returning calls, playing voicemail, controlling iTunes Radio, and more.

Did you happen to notice any name missing from that statement, like Google? With the release of iOS7, Bing will become the default search engine for Siri. Below is from the Bing Search Blog, June 10.

Today at WWDC Apple announced iOS 7, which brings Bing web search integration to Siri, Apple's breakthrough personal assistant, for the first time. Starting this fall with iOS 7, Bing will power Siri's new integrated web search. When users ask Siri a question either the specific answer or web search links will now be delivered automatically so users can find information even faster.

Because of Apple's dominance in web traffic, this change shouldn't be taken lightly. Apple iOS platform is the dominate web traffic platform in the United States, and the company's lead is only growing because of iOS' much higher engagements among its users compared with Android or any other platforms. iOS currently has double Google's shares of mobile web traffic in the U.S., increasing market share from 60.57% in June to 65.04% in August. By comparison, Google's Android saw its share gain to 30.23%, up from 28.30% in the same period (2).

So only time will tell how efficient this new Siri will be at learning users' voices, and handling searches. I feel comfortable saying that it will get there eventually, and when it does, what looked like a little announcement back at WWDC 2013, could be one announcement that turns around Microsoft's fortunes in search rankings. It's clear Apple and Google are at war, and Apple is going after the heart of Google's business by making Bing the search option for Siri.

I feel compelled to quote Larry Page's comment on Google's July 18 2013 conference call, "We live in a world of abundant computing, with multiple operating systems and increasing number of the devices. And it's a very different environment from when Google started. There was essentially one OS, and one device category, the PC. These kind of changes don't happen that often. Once a decade, maybe even less are coming. The shift from laptop to mobiles, from on screen to multiple screens, create a tremendous opportunity for Google."

I agree with his statement nearly in full, except what if the change is Conversational Search, and the most popular device for web traffic decides to kicks you off its platform, what then?

I'm Negative on Google. As technology changes/improves, so will consumer habits and how users get answers to their daily search quires. It really looks like in general, Google is in the middle of a battle on all fronts of its business, whether it be small business advertising with Facebook, local and location based search with Yelp (which will benefit tremendously I feel by being integrated with an improved Siri) or Twitter as an information tool and a social network that has figured out how to sell ads, without irritating its base.

But if I was Google I would be most nervous about Apple, which looks to be taking its fight with Google to the core of its DNA - search. As John F Kennedy said, "People Do Best What Comes Naturally." Communicating question and directives with spoken words dates back to the beginning of mankind.

Currently I am long Microsoft stock and will be looking at Google Jan 2015 puts with strikes that are at the money. It will take time for Google's armor to start showing cracks from all the competition the company is facing, which is why I like the risk/reward and time the Jan 2015 puts offer. If the market witnesses any success by Facebook, Yelp, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple or a new player/technology in penetrating or slowing down CPC numbers or traffic to in the Apple ecosystem, I think it will be extremely difficult for Google to justify a 26 multiple and share prices should be justified by moving lower.

Disclosure: I am long MSFT, AAPL. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Additional disclosure: Will be buying 2015 Jan Puts, strikes between $880.00 and $800.00