5 reasons why or why not Apple should Bing

It seems like everybody who is anybody, or nobody, is speculating that an Apple-Google schism is inevitable. In vogue this week: Punditry about Apple and Microsoft entering into an unholy search alliance. Overnight, Business Week reporters Peter Burrows and Cliff Edwards claimed that "Apple is in talks with Microsoft to replace Google as the default search engine on its iPhone, according to two people familiar with the matter." It's no surprise that countless blogs and news sites have spread the rumor everywhere today. Could it be true? Should it be true?

Before answering those questions with five reasons why and also why not Apple should switch to Bing, I want to flush out some mitigating circumstances. There typically are only two circumstances when an agreement like this rumored one leaks: The deal is done and will be soon announced; talks aren't going well and one side or the other lets out information as a trial balloon or to put pressure on the other. Leaks can scuttle discussions so they rarely happen when both parties are negotiating in good faith.

With that qualifier -- and with no information about whether or not an Apple-Microsoft search deal is imminent -- I present my reasons for and and against it, listed in no particular order of importance.

Reasons Why Apple Should Bing

1. Android is gaining on iPhone -- fast. The smartphone market is looking lots like the PC market did in the 1980s and 1990s: Apple on one side with a closed, end-to-end solution; everybody else aligned against Apple around a single, competing operating system. That aptly describes Android, for which there are new handset announcements almost every week. According to ChangeWave, among U.S. consumers planning to buy a smartphone in 3 months, 21 percent said an Android handset, up from 6 percent in September.

2. Apple and Google increasingly compete in mobile cloud services, where search is a differentiator. Both companies offer excellent -- and competing -- sync, e-mail, calendar, contact and photo sharing services, among others. But Google differentiates Android handsets with tighter search and mapping integration, which likely will only increase over time. Search is the must-have mobile service, but Apple shouldn't be dependent on a major mobile competitor to get it.

3. Apple's brand is cool, something Bing could inherit by association. Microsoft has done a surprisingly good job marketing Bing. The brand zings and the keyword counter marketing is pure bling. But Apple brand on iPhone would open up new demographics to Bing. As I so often assert, in business perception is everything. Microsoft's Bing iPhone application is already pretty good, so foundation is in place to switch out Google search and mapping.

4. Apple doesn't want Adobe Flash on iPhone, but Silverlight would be fine. Flash would be a competing development platform to App Store, whereas Silverlight is, for now, better suited for content delivery. Microsoft already is bringing Silverlight to Bing. A search deal could grease a Silverlight-for-iPhone agreement (as long as it doesn't compete with QuickTime but still be broader than announced Silverlight HTML 5 streaming).

5. Microsoft already is the largest third-party developer for Macintosh. Apple may brag on the number of App Store applications -- more than 110,000 at last official count -- but quality matters more than quantity. A smartly-crafted Bing search and services deal would include Bing for Macintosh and Windows Safari and Microsoft commitment to release iPhone apps supporting its enterprise server products. SharePoint? There's an app for that. Communications Server? There's an app for that? Business intelligence processes? There's an app for that, too.

Reasons Why Apple Shouldn't Bing

1. Microsoft's CEO and chairman both have expressed resentment about Apple's "Get a Mac" attack ads against Windows. Two days ago, I asked: "Where have all the iPhone TV commercials gone?" The next day, AdWeek observed that "Apple skipped doing ['Get a Mac'] holiday spots for the first time in four years." Could it be Apple pulled back the "Get a Mac" ads to ease any negotiations with Microsoft?

2. Apple has enough cash to easily buy another search engine, from which it could drive share from iTunes. The idea of an Apple search engine might sound nutty, but it's what Apple needs to assure the utility of its mobile handset strategy and to level the playing field with Google in mobile search. Best of all, Apple could go out with a different business model, and one that cuts into Google's core keyword search business; Apple search could be pure utility rather than a means for selling advertising. By bundling search with iTunes -- and Lala in the cloud -- Apple could quickly drive up search share. Perhaps Apple should ask if Ask is for sale. Imagine rebranding to iAsk?

3. Apple and Microsoft competition is increasing in gaming, music players and content delivery to the living room. Mac fans can laugh off Zune, but Microsoft has done a great job with Zune HD and Zune 4.0 software -- and the company is rapidly extending the franchise to Xbox and quite possibly mobile handsets. Meanwhile, just as Microsoft makes a big play for the living room with Xbox and Mediaroom 2.0, Apple is accelerating its own entertainment strategy -- quite possibly the rumored tablet taking a role. Then there is gaming, where iPhone and iPod touch are gaining popularity with consumers and developers.

4. Apple and Microsoft will compete in more cloud services during 2010. Sure, the companies have long competed in cloud services like e-mail and instant messaging. But Apple and Microsoft are pursuing hosted productivity suite strategies, respectively with iWeb and Office Web Apps. Competition for sync services and application stores are among the many areas where Apple and Microsoft storm clouds will collide.

5. A search deal could hurt Apple's brand. Apple and Google are both hot brands, particularly with NetGeners and Gen Yers, which are important demographics for technology adoption. Microsoft's brand is increasingly like IBM -- it's what older folks or businesses use. Microsoft's consumer appeal is limited to Xbox and somewhat to Bing. Microsoft's Windows Mobile/Phone brand is a marketer's worst-nightmare. Apple has to really think how much it wants to be associated with the brand responsible for Windows Vista, Windows Mobile and dry enterprise apps like Outlook.

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