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A question has loomed over media and tech worlds lately: What happens to search when the browser is no longer the front door? As engagement migrates to mobile, users’ front door is predominantly apps instead of the search-centric web. This is the topic of an upcoming BIA/Kelsey report (excerpt below).

The question’s importance is heightened by search’s longstanding dominance. It has been the gatekeeper to the web for the past decade. And that dominance has been lucrative, especially for market share leader Google, which derives $40 billion annually from search advertising.

Search started in the desktop-heavy world of the 90’s and 2000’s, when trillions of web pages compelled an advanced index and a friendly entry point. But an app-centric mobile universe — pre-organized into neat little buckets — doesn’t compel a search engine, as we know it.

The impact of this trend is felt greatest by Google, as mobile usage continues to grow and 84 percent of mobile minutes are spent in-app (Nielsen). In fact, one of the biggest challenges facing Google today is carrying its dominance into a new environment with different entry points to digital content.

Google is developing several strategies to do this, some of which have emerged only recently. One thing is clear from watching these moves: Google is avoiding the common trap of an innovator’s dilemma. In some ways it’s embracing the formats that most threaten search. This can be seen in Google NOW.

Our new report will look at the state of mobile search. How is it impacted by new hardware (i.e. wearables), software innovation (Google Now) and shifting user behavior (i.e. millennials)? What will Google and others do to live in this new multi-screen world? And what will be the next decade’s local search business models?

Check out the first few sections below and the full report will be complete in the next few weeks.

The Four Horsemen

There are famously “four horsemen” of technology, which dominate the main competitive areas that define the industry. Apple rules in hardware; Amazon rules ecommerce; Facebook rules social; and Google rules search. Each of them have varying points of defensibility and weakness.

Apple’s potential weakness lies in a risky share of revenue tied up in hardware — where natural cycles of obsolescence require constant innovation. Facebook battles the fickleness of social herd mentality. And Amazon is beholden to swings in logistical variables (i.e. fuel prices).

Google, some would argue, has the greatest position of strength given our reliance on its technology as an index to most of the world’s information (power). But its foundation has weakened with trends that could lessen that reliance. The biggest culprit for this shift: mobile.

Given that 84 percent of mobile time is spent in native apps , users sidestep the place where Google has established dominance: the browser. Trillions of web pages have compelled Google’s advanced index and friendly entry point that make all that information and knowledge accessible.

But the app-heavy mobile environment — already siloed into neat little buckets — doesn’t beg for a search engine. This is worrisome for Google who’s biggest and most under-recognized challenge will be migrate its dominance into this new digital world that has alternate entry points.

And it’s not just smartphones. Google anticipates the expanding “device continuum” of watches, augmented reality and virtual reality. The underlying implication is how all of this impacts Google’s ability to make money in driving consumers towards $7 trillion in U.S. local commerce.

One of the biggest questions determining the fate of our technology future is how will Google accomplish this?


A few answers to that core question have become clear from Google’s recent moves. Generally, one thing is clear: Google is avoiding the common trap of an innovator’s dilemma. In some ways it’s embracing the formats that most threaten search. This battle will happen on many fronts.

On one battlefront, Google is making great efforts to clean up the mobile web into a more user friendly and functional environment. Indeed, the mobile web’s functional inferiority to native apps is one of the reasons why it has lost share as a place where users spend their time.

Its second battlefront will be deep linking. This is the art of indexing content within native apps and providing tools for developers to link from one app (or from the web) to deep within another. It’s a critical area of development, given that native apps lack the interconnectedness of the web.

Battlefronts one and two in fact coexist in ironic ways. With the first, Google wants to beat the app world; with the second, it wants to join it. But together, they increase Google’s winning probability by placing multiple bets. And they both further Google’s goal to protect its place at the front door.

But the most important and unrecognized battlefront determining Google’s fate is Google Now. This push-based discovery app — categorized by some as a personal assistant — will be the biggest test for how Google will live in the app-centric multi-screen world we’re now entering.

Let’s examine these battlefronts one-by-one

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