Apple iPhone
The question is whether the search giant pushed its way onto Apple devices at the expense of competitors. Image Credit: REUTERS

California: Apple’s services chief, set to testify in Washington Tuesday, plans to defend the lucrative deal that made Google’s search engine the default option on the iPhone, saying it was the best choice for consumers.

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of services and the architect of the agreement, is taking the stand at a Department of Justice trial against Google, which the government says used its dominance in search to hinder competition. Cue plans to say he has always believed that Google makes the best search engine - and that’s why Apple uses it as the go-to option across its major devices - according to a person familiar with his expected testimony.

Google pays Apple billions of dollars for this prominent position on products like the iPhone, making the agreement of particular interest to the government. The question is whether the search giant pushed its way onto Apple devices at the expense of competitors.

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In his testimony, Cue plans to stress that Apple makes it easy for consumers to change the primary search engine. The company also sees no need to develop its own search tool because Google clearly is the best option, he’ll say. That differs from the company’s approach in other areas: It competes with Google in mapping software and voice assistants, as well as operating systems for phones and computers.

Cue is expected to highlight that Apple has search arrangements with other companies, which provide the non-default options built into the Safari internet browser. That includes Microsoft Corp.’s Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and Ecosia. Similar to its agreement with Google, Apple gets a slice of the advertising revenue generated when users select those search engines as their main option in Safari.

Apple and Google struck their initial arrangement in 2002. That made Google the default option in the Safari browser, which first launched on the Mac. The companies updated their accord in 2005, 2007 and 2016, and Cue is expected to testify that there have been a number of amendments during the last several years.

Last week, Apple machine learning chief John Giannandrea testified as well. The executive, who led search at Google before joining Apple in 2018, pointed to a new feature in iOS 17 and iPadOS 17 - the latest software that runs iPhones and iPads - that lets users assign a different default search engine for private browsing. That means consumers can switch between Google and another option more easily.