Will Siri Be the Death of Google?

I’ve been reading Teju Cole’s Open City, in large part due to an enthusiastic review by Karan Mahajan in n+1. As Karan writes,

Open City reads like a digressive monograph of the sort favored by Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag, sweeping up changing seasons, news, gossip, and historical tidbits in service of big questions.

And that’s exactly the kind of novel I like. Early on, the protagonist, Julius, describes the death of Tower Records and Blockbuster:

It wasn’t that I felt sorry for these faceless national corporations; far from it. They had made their profits and their names by destroying smaller, earlier local businesses. But I was touched not only at the passage of these fixtures in my mental landscape, but also at the swiftness and dispassion with which the market swallowed even the most resilient enterprises. Business that had seemed unshakable a few years previously had disappeared in the span, seemingly, of a few weeks. Whatever role they played passed on to other hands, hand that would feel briefly invincible and would, in their turn, be defeated by unforeseen changes. These survivors would also be forgotten. 

This passage came to mind as I read Rip Empson’s fascinating interview with Gary Morgenthaler, the first investor in Siri, at TechCrunch:

“A million blue links from Google is worth far less than one correct answer from Siri,” he adds. These are very early days for Siri, but already he hears that “Siri’s usage has been 10x more than what Apple anticipated.” The big potential, of course, is if Apple opens up Siri to outside developers, which could create a new wave of voice-enabled apps and give Apple an edge over Android and other mobile platforms. (Morgenthaler also gets into the challenges Apple must overcome before it can open up Siri).

If people start using Siri to bypass search, that is a huge threat to Google. But how would Siri make money? It wouldn’t be from advertising. In Morgenthaler’s mind, the biggest opportunity is getting in the middle of transaction. “Corporations will be happy to skip advertising altogether, if they can go straight to transactions,” he says.

Google is a large, deep-pocketed, and resilient business enterprise, and we have no reason to believe that Siri represents the beginning of its end. Yet as Julius reminds us, much the same could have been said of Tower Records and Blockbuster. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

Most Popular

U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More
Religion

Billy Graham: Neither Prophet nor Theologian

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some and there are many "miracles around us today, including television and airplanes." Graham was no theologian. Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said "a prophet hath no honor in his own country." Prophets take adversarial ... Read More
Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More