His point on Google's ability to withstand Firefox's desertion as a traffic provider was based on the fact that Apple, not Mozilla, was Google's biggest search partner. Apple uses Google as the default search within iOS, and generates far more revenue for Google than did Mozilla. Only if Apple dumped Google would the latter suffer. And that's not likely to happen.
"I think Apple really got burned with Maps," said Dawson, referring to the 2012 fiasco of rolling out its own mapping and navigation platform. Search is far more important to the overall user experience than mapping, he argued. "Disrupting that could be even more damaging than Maps. I think Apple would think very carefully [about dropping Google's search], and will not do it anytime soon. Instead, Apple is diverting some of those search queries through Siri and Spotlight."
It's probable that Apple receives more than $1 billion annually from Google for driving traffic, said Dawson, pointing out that Google's distribution partner traffic acquisition costs over the last four quarters was approximately $3.5 billion.
"The only thing that could cause more significant damage for Google [than Mozilla's shift] is if Apple switched the default search provider from Google to Bing or Yahoo in Safari," Dawson wrote in a separate analysis published on Tech.pinions today (subscription required).
Mozilla's change to Yahoo in the U.S. -- which Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer called "the most significant partnership for Yahoo in five years" -- won't necessary rescue the non-profit from what appears to be a downward spiral.
"Mozilla's browser share is likely to shrink over time," contended Dawson. "Because there are more costs to cover moves [like Firefox OS], it's stretched thinner than before. If its share shrinks, it will have less revenue, which means it can spend less on development. That may make its products less appealing to users, so fewer people use them."
Mozilla will roll out Firefox's Yahoo search default next month with a new user interface (UI); the UI will debut in other browsers in early 2015.
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