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Apple could have started the search wars with Google in 2018

Bing, a Microsoft search engine.

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Apple could have owned Bing in 2018, with a court filing revealing that Microsoft offered to sell the search engine to the iPhone maker.

The unsealing of documents from Google's antitrust lawsuit against the U.S. Justice Department on Friday made an interesting revelation about Bing. The suit, a bid to determine if Alphabet has a monopoly on web search advertising and the legality of agreements such as Google's with Apple to be the default search of Safari, raised an interesting point about Bing.

The filing from earlier in February had Google claim Microsoft had made pitches to Apple six times between 2009 and 2020 to make Bing the default Safari search, reports CNBC. Apple reportedly declined each time, due to apparent quality issues.

"In each instance, Apple took a hard look at the relative quality of Bing versus Google and concluded that Google was the superior default choice for its Safari users," wrote Google. "That is competition."

After spending close to $100 million on Bing over a 20-year period, Microsoft is claimed by Google to have reached out to Apple in 2018 with a different offer. Rather than simply being just the default search in Safari, Microsoft offered to potentially sell Apple, or create a joint venture for the engine.

The filing quotes Apple SVP of Services Eddy Cue assessing Bing, stating "Microsoft search quality, their investment in search, everything was not significant at all. And so everything was lower. So the search quality itself wasn't as good."

"They weren't investing at any level comparable to Google or to what Microsoft could invest in," Cue continued. "And their advertising organization and how they monetize was not very good either."

Apple CEO Tim Cook also reportedly emailed Apple executives about Bing, Google adds, however his comments are redacted in the filing itself.

The Justice Department's filing in the suit said that Cue testified "If Apple did not receive the massive payments it sought from Google, Apple would have developed its own search engine."

During the trial, Cue told the court that Google was seemingly the only option for Apple, with Google offered as the default in part because Apple "always thought it was the best." Cue also said that Apple had no interest in making its own search engine as the Google deal was best for its users.

The 2018 attempt was not the only time Microsoft reportedly tried to sell Bing to Apple. In September, the trial claimed Microsoft initiated discussions in 2020, but talks allegedly fizzled out before leaving the exploratory phase.