By Mark Gurman and Leah Nylen
Microsoft Corp. was willing to hide its search engine’s “Bing” brand on Apple Inc. devices in order to secure an agreement with the iPhone maker and unseat Google, Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella testified Monday.
Taking the stand at Google’s antitrust trial, Microsoft’s Nadella described the lengths his company was willing to go to become Apple’s default search engine, a position that Google currently enjoys. That included offering “strategic flexibility” on how to brand the search engine and encouraging Apple to look at its technology independently of the Bing brand.
The testimony was part of a Department of Justice trial against Google, which the government says has used its search dominance to quash competition and hurt consumers. The company’s agreement with Apple is central to that case. Google pays billions of dollars a year to be the default option for Apple devices, and Microsoft has tried — and failed — to offer a more attractive deal.
Getting that default spot from Apple would be “game changing,” Nadella said. “Whomever they choose, they king-make.”
Nadella did make inroads with Apple between 2013 and 2017, when the iPhone maker opted to replace Google as the search engine powering Siri and the Spotlight feature on its devices. Apple, however, never dropped Google as the default in its Safari web browser and reverted back to Google in the other areas after only four years.
The discussion about dropping the Bing brand happened during negotiations in 2018. The arrangement would have meant Safari search results were powered by Bing, but under an alternative brand.
Nadella said he has tried to replace Google as Apple’s default search engine every year since he became CEO in 2014. In earlier testimony Monday, he said Apple used Microsoft to “bid up the price” it gets paid by Google.
“Do you think Google would continue to pay Apple if there was no search competition? Why would they do that?” he said.
Apple services chief Eddy Cue has said he works with Google because the Mountain View, California-based company provides the best search results. The iPhone maker gets roughly $8 billion annually from the Google deal, which is structured as a revenue-share agreement.
Microsoft had even offered to sell Bing to Apple around 2020, Bloomberg News reported last week. Cue declined that overture.