Google makes money off of the iPhone even if it’s not Apple’s default search engine

iPhone browsing is so important to Google’s bottom line that the company is willing to pay Apple billions of dollars annually. That’s how Google Search remains the default online search option on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple’s take rose to $21 billion as of 2021, an unsurprising revelation that came from the big US vs. Google antitrust trial. That made me say the iPhone is one of Google’s best mobile products. Even more important than Pixel, considering the massive revenue that comes in from Google Search.

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But it turns out that’s not the only way the iPhone is making Google a lot of money. A new discovery from the same landmark antitrust trial indicates the iPhone is a huge money-maker for Google’s ad business. That’s because the iPhone might be among the top products that trigger lots of ad results in Google Search. When internet users click on those ads, Google pockets a profit.

Google often says that Google Search only shows ads on about 20% of queries. These are the so-called “commercial queries,” The Verge notes. And Google doesn’t share data about those commercial queries.

However, the search giant had to reveal some of that data during its antitrust trial. Judge Amit Mehta had the list made public after “long deliberations,” The Verge says.

Exhibit from the US vs. Google antitrust trial shows the iPhone topping search results for a specific period.Exhibit from the US vs. Google antitrust trial shows the iPhone topping search results for a specific period. Image source: Justice.gov

As seen in the screenshot above, Google shared the top 20 queries for the week of September 22nd, 2018, by revenue:

  • iphone 8
  • iPhone 8 plus
  • auto insurance
  • car insurance
  • cheap flights
  • car insurance quotes
  • direct tv
  • online colleges
  • at&t
  • Hulu
  • iPhone
  • uber
  • spectrum
  • Comcast
  • Xfinity
  • insurance quotes
  • free credit report
  • cheap car insurance
  • AARP
  • lifelock

The number of queries and the revenue these queries generated during the week is redacted. But “iPhone 8” and “iPhone 8 plus” are the top two search terms. Also, “iPhone” is the 11th search term on the list.

The interest in the iPhone for that September period is understandable. Regardless of year, Apple releases new iPhones in mid-September.

Strangely enough, Apple unveiled the iPhone 8 series a year earlier, on September 12th, 2017. The phones then hit stores on September 22nd, 2017. More importantly, Apple launched the iPhone X that year, which would have hit stores in early November.

That said, it’s clear that iPhone interest is driving a lot of revenue to advertisers that post their ads on Google Search pages. In turn, Google makes plenty of profit from those searches.

As someone who has been following the iPhone closely for years, as well as the overall mobile business, I can tell you consumer interest in the iPhone is significant throughout the year, not just in September.

Google only gave us a look at a period in September when the iPhone would easily top Google’s monetizable searches. But I’d guess the searches for iPhone generate plenty of ad money for Google throughout the year.

It would be interesting to see how much money Google made from iPhone searches during that one week in September. It certainly can’t match the overall revenue the company makes thanks to its default online search deal for Safari. And Google would not disclose such details anyway. But the point is that, again, the iPhone helps Google make money in more ways than one.


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