Did Apple Inspire Google? Google Instant is Spotlight for the Web

Sep 13, 2010 - 13 Comments


There’s a lot of hooplah in the web world about Google Instant and it’s ability to turn up search results immediately while you type them. Is Google Instant really as new and revolutionary as it’s claimed to be? Yes and no. Yes for the web, and no for computing. You know what other prominent search engine has been providing instant and predictive search results based on user input? Apple’s very own Spotlight.

Spotlight: the Original Instant Search Engine

Spotlight first appeared in 2005 when Mac OS X 10.4 came out, and it was just as impressive then as it is now; type anything and the results are immediately shown, changing as your query continues to build. As far as I know, Spotlight is the original ‘instant’ search engine, it just happened to be built into the desktop environment instead of the web, and it’s function was proven there five years ago.
spotlight search results
To this day it’s just as helpful, I use Spotlight constantly to find literally anything on my Mac or iPhone, it makes for an incredible application launcher and with all the search operators you can dig really deep into your file system and find just about anything.

Google Instant: Inspired by Apple Spotlight?

It’s no secret that despite the growing rivalry between the two companies, tons of Googlers are Apple fans (and vice versa). Apple and Google are the two leading tech titans right now (Microwho?) and are driving all sorts of technological innovation from the web to mobile platforms. So here’s my personal theory on Google Instant: some Googler was going about work as usual, developing on their Mac and using Spotlight to find some buried documents. A lightbulb hits; what if we made the Google search index like this?. Perhaps it started as one of Google’s famous 20% projects, or perhaps it was Sergey Brin or Larry Page themselves who thought of it, who knows, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple’s very own Spotlight inspired what became Google Instant.

Spotlight vs Instant: Different Platforms, Same Experience

If you compare the functionality of Apple Spotlight and Google Instant, it’s practically identical. Obviously the results are different, but so is the platform and content being searched:


Is the top hit always what you want? No. Does having very fast search results offer a good user experience? Yes. Apple figured this out first, including an OS-level search engine right into the core of their user experience. Spotlight is now a major feature in Mac OS X and iOS. Google followed suite with Google Instant, and certainly many others will follow, it’s a no brainer.

I’ve been using Google Instant for about a week now and other than some of the unintentional (or just plain weird) suggestions I think it does make for a quicker search experience. My only complaint is that it puts too much trust in Google’s algorithm, which while decent is not perfect – no existing algorithm can read your mind or know exactly what you’re looking for. Often you just need to dig deeper into a search and look at many other results to find the information you are actually looking for (sounds a lot like Spotlight too, doesn’t it?).

Inspiration & Innovation: a Two Way Street

So did Apple inspire Google? I think so, I think they frequently do (Google Tablet, iPhone & Android, etc). Apple is continuously on the cutting edge of technology and the entire tech industry follows in their footsteps, sampling ideas here and there and making it their own.

This is a two way street, Apple undoubtedly does the same thing and borrows good ideas from other good companies (App Store, iAds & Google Ads, iBookstore & Delicious Library, etc). If something is a good idea and it offers a good experience, why not replicate it?

Note: Just to state the obvious here, this is really an Op/Ed piece. Other than looking at the obvious similarities between Google Instant and Apple Spotlight, there is no proof that one is based on the other or that Google was inspired by Apple let alone eating ice cream.


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Posted by: William Pearson in Mac OS


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  1. […] ideas seems to trickle from Apple to Google more often than the reverse; touchscreens, app stores, instant search, tablets, […]

  2. […] Conspiracy¬†theorists run amok on OSX Daily, where they think that Google’s new Google Instant technology was¬†inspired¬†(in one way or another) by Apple’s Spotlight. […]

  3. SublimeSparo says:

    Marty – Vista is a blatant attempt by MS to copy OS X, thus they copied Spotlight from OS X Tiger i think it was.

  4. Marty says:

    Don’t forget about Windows 7/Vista start menu search box! It gave instant result.

  5. qq says:

    how about facetime vs skype ?

  6. Mike Ansen says:

    Really interesting analysis. Not being an Apple guy nor a techy in general I had no idea this is a bit of a derivative technology. Maybe a study of some of the earlier applications will give us an idea of what type of impact Google instant will have in the Google SEO world.

  7. SublimeSparo says:

    http://www.inquisitorx.com/safari/index_en.php anyone?
    google blatantly ripped this off.

  8. Chris says:

    As usual, some Apple user thinks Apple invented the instant search.

    • Parker says:

      This is true, I read about it in the book of Genesis Internet Edition:

      “and on the third day, Apple created Instant Search. And then Jobs rested.”

      it’s in there, go ahead and look yourself.

  9. Not as good as Quicksilver! Of course, I use the two interchangeable most of the time now.

  10. icebreaker says:

    Spotlight was not the first instant search engine. A very good one, but not the first.

  11. MMF says:

    I think what google came out with was previously introduced by a developer (unfortunately I don’t remember his name), you can check it in the below link.



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