From the Financial Times' "Apple develops alternative to Google search" posted overnight:
Apple is stepping up efforts to develop its own search technology as US antitrust authorities threaten multibillion-dollar payments that Google makes to secure prime placement of its engine on the iPhone.
In a little-noticed change to the latest version of the iPhone operating system, iOS 14, Apple has begun to show its own search results and link directly to websites when users type queries from its home screen. That web search capability marks an important advance in Apple’s in-house development and could form the foundation of a fuller attack on Google, according to several people in the industry.
The Silicon Valley company is notoriously secretive about its internal projects, but the move adds to growing evidence that it is working to build a rival to Google’s search engine. Two and a half years ago, Apple poached Google’s head of search, John Giannandrea. The hire was ostensibly to boost its artificial intelligence capabilities and its Siri virtual assistant, but also brought eight years of experience running the world’s most popular search engine...
Search marketing experts also point to increased activity from Applebot, the iPhone maker’s once-obscure web crawler, which is used to build the vast database of online material that forms the foundation of any search engine.
Suganthan Mohanadasan, a digital marketing consultant, said Applebot has shown up “a ridiculous number of times” on his clients’ websites in recent weeks. “When the crawl rate increases, that tells us they are trying to gather more information.”
My take: I see that AppleInsider is skeptical...
The new report repeats the claim that AppleBot — Apple's own web crawler service — has seen increased activity. AppleInsider testing didn't back that up, nor has our research confirmed the Financial Times assertion that Apple has been recruiting more search engineers.