Apple is seeking to improve Spotlight search, but is still years away from launching a search engine to rival Google, according to The Information.

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The paywalled report explains that Apple’s search technology faces a setback amid loss of talent to Google. In 2018, Apple sought to bolster development of a web search engine by buying machine learning startup Laserlike, which was founded by three former Google search engineers. The company’s technology recommended websites based on a user’s interests and browsing history. Now, Laserlike’s founders have reportedly returned to Google.

Apple’s search team is believed to contain at least 200 employees and powers the technology behind Spotlight, Siri Suggestions, and answers provided by ‌Siri‌. The company is still at least four years away from launching a replacement to Google search, according to one person involved with the team speaking to The Information. While Google pays Apple around $15 billion per year to stay as the default search engine on Apple devices, Apple developing an in-house rival to Google search could increase its leverage during its periodic negotiations with Google over the deal.

In the meanwhile, Apple has apparently discussed using the technology to power search for Apple Music and the App Store. Apple currently uses the search technology to generate data for Apple teams developing apps that use natural language processing, such as the Translate app, and to use tweets to determine newsworthy events that should show up in results and recommend Apple News articles. One of the team’s immediate priorities is said to be improving Spotlight so that it can handle “100 times more” queries than it does today.

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