Apple fans have long wished for an Apple-branded search engine, but the company continues relying on licensees with Google and other rivals for its search services.

Blogger Jon Henshaw from Coywolf has been observing an increase in crawling from Applebot along with more frequent updates to the Applebot support page, including more documentation that describes how Applebot ranks search results and verifies traffic. The tone of the language is similar to the wording that Google uses to describe its processes to SEO experts and webmasters.

The new text, for instance, includes more information about rules for robots.txt, and details the difference between the mobile and desktop versions of the Applebot user agent. It also says that Applebot renders pages similar to Google along with crawling HTML.

Other Apple observers have noticed an increase in open positions for search engineers, including candidates with experience in machine learning, NLP and AI. While the listings don’t necessary state that a new search engine is in the works, it could be a good guess based on the requested skills.

Additionally, a new feature of Spotlight, iOS 14 and iOS iPad 14 which is currently being beta tested, bypasses Google and traditional search formats and can take the user straight to a specific web page. Siri also uses an Apple-based search for user requests, and the company has been putting more resources in this direction too as user interest grows.

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Henshaw at Coywolf also suggests there also may be more than market forces at play. He theorizes that an Apple-owned search engine could be an interesting side effect of the current battle in Europe involving Google. Several non-U.S. companies have accused Google of being too anti-competitive and making it difficult for any other search engines to be available as a default alternative. Foreign governments have even threatened to remove the default Google search engine from hardware sold in the United Kingdom and European Union.

If this happens, Apple could be poised to easily move into a market that has been dominated by Google, where it would likely be welcomed by regulators especially if it willingly makes it easy to offer choices.

Apple also may have decided that it is at a point where it no longer needs the money that Google pays for licensing, and wants to put its resources to its own products, rather than helping its rival gain market share.

At this point, Apple hasn’t made any formal or even informal statements about new search services in the works, but may wait until 2021 to build up interest and then create larger fanfare with a major announcement.