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Friday, May 28, 2010, 06:00 pm PT (09:00 pm ET)

iPhone OS 4 to open web services to Microsoft's Bing

Apple is working with Microsoft to broaden the iPhone's search and related web services from their current primary dependance upon Google to include additional support for Bing.

According to a report by TechCrunch, Apple's next revision of the iPhone OS won't drop Google for Bing entirely, but will expand the number of search options iPhone users see, and apparently make those options more visible.

TechCrunch originally reported Google would be entirely replaced by Bing search in iPhone OS 4, a claim that was later retracted in an update that said sources clarified "it's more complicated than this" and that Apple wouldn't be removing support for Google search.

Apple already provides an option to use Yahoo for web search in Safari, although that option is not obvious and requires visiting system settings to make the switch.

A parallel report by Kara Swisher in the Wall Street Journal "All Things Digital" blog indicates Microsoft has been asking that Bing search be added to the iPhone's search options for some time, and also wants to make the choice more visible to users.

Microsoft has also been in talks with Apple to get its mapping services integrated into the iPhone. Individual iPhone apps have already made use of Microsoft's mapping services, but Apple's own Maps app on the iPhone and iPad is hardwired to Google's mapping services.

Last fall, Apple purchased Placebase, a mapping service designed to overlay demographic, economic and environmental data on top of maps. It has since been speculated that Apple planned to use the acquisition to either build an alternative mapping service for iPhone Maps, or more likely, add additional layers of features on top of the current Maps data to differentiate the iPhone from Google's own map app for Android.

Google wrote the iPhone?

Last fall, TechCrunch writer Michael Arrington stated that "Apple expressed dismay at the number of core iPhone apps that are powered by Google. Search, maps, YouTube, and other key popular apps are powered by Google." He added, "other than the browser, Apple has little else to call its own other than the core phone, contacts and calendar features." That comment was repeated in the most recent article regarding Bing.

Arrinton's dismissal of the iPhone OS as being little more than a client for Google services was further exaggerated by fellow writer Erick Schonfeld, who wrote “in fact, some of the best apps on the iPhone—Mail, Maps, YouTube, Search—were developed by Google.”

In reality however, Google hasn't written any of the client apps Apple bundles with the iPhone OS, which is why the company responded with some degree of surprise when Apple launched the iPhone with its slick Maps app and mobile Safari browser leveraging the open APIs Google provides for its mapping services. Apple worked closely with Google to support serving Flash-free video to the iPhone's YouTube app, but the design and implementation of that client app were still Apple's work.

Google also had nothing to do with the development of the iPhone's Mail application. Google's own mail service for Android is actually split into two apps: one supporting GMail and another for standard Internet email accounts.

Apple's platform strategy requires control

At the same time, Apple's iPhone partnership with Google in web services, which pair Apple's easy to use client apps with Google's powerful backend services, has most certainly been strained by Google's increasingly brutal portrayal of Apple and the iPhone as a dystopian environment out of "1984" along with recent comments by Andy Rubin, Google's VP of engineering, that outrageously compared Apple to North Korea.

It is likely that Apple will increasingly want to lessen its dependance upon Google and leverage alternative web service providers. That is an available option for Apple precisely because it chose to control its own client apps on the iPhone rather than delegating that work to Google or other third parties. That's also the reason Apple cites for not approving certain apps, including Google Voice, that would effectively replace core iPhone apps.

Apple has learned painful lessons in the past about delegating its platforms' core apps to third parties. The original Macintosh handed the productivity software market to Microsoft and created the desktop publishing market for Aldus and Adobe; those companies then took their apps to Windows in the early 90s, leaving Apple largely stranded and powerless to do anything about it.

In the late 90s, Apple again found itself at the mercy of Microsoft in web browsers. When Microsoft all but abandoned the Mac version of Internet Explorer, Apple set out to develop its own independent browser in Safari. That has since given the company the unfettered ability to lead and innovate both on the Mac desktop and on the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Apple's desire to maintain control of its platforms' destiny also plays a large role in the company's refusal to support Java, Flash, or Silverlight on the iPhone OS and its lack of support for Windows Media DRM on the iPod. Both decisions have made it far easier for Apple to rapidly update and secure the iPhone OS and introduce new features and changes.