Apple knows it, Google knows it. Mobile search is the next big thing and could potentially be much more lucrative than desktop search for a number of reasons.
(1) Mobile search is still in its infancy
Right now, searching on a mobile is done the old way, using tiny touchpad keys and getting answers that have no relation to say, the location of the query.
(2) Mobile search is booming, at least on Smartphones
Earlier this year, the head of Google's mobile operations, Vic Gundotra, told the Financial Times that the iPhone records 50 times more searches than any other mobile handset (ed: seeing everyone in the office keying search terms on their iphone during lunch, that's not a surprise) which means that single-handedly, Apple's iPhone has legitimised mobile platform as an ad-revenue generator. And Google has just released Google Voice search and rather than put it on Android, it launched it first on its staunchest rival, the iPhone (ed: Imagine Microsoft debuting Office 2009 on Linux).
(3) Apple sits on money
Money in the bank is good but does not generate any profit. And with the US rate of interests at 1 percent right now, Apple might get bolder and decide to invest in mobile search technology or maybe even buy another, well known, well established player in the market.
(4) Apple need to look for other revenue segments
Apple shares have been battered over the last few months losing half their value (and essentially halving the value of the company) in the last three months. The reason being that investors fear that the current economic downturn will affect Apple as it is overly dependent on hardware and consumer products. Over the last 100 days on the stock markets, only Yahoo came close to match Apple's vertiginous fall with Microsoft and Google shedding less in percentage points than Apple.
(5) Android is coming
That's fairly obvious. Step on my toes and I will step on yours. Google did that to Microsoft with the online Apps and Microsoft retaliated by trying to make its search more competitive (using cashbacks for example). Same thing is happening with phones and it would be fair play if Apple start to work on a search engine.
Still, as Michael Arrington from Techcrunch says, Apple has not been making the right noises had it planned to build a mobile search engine soon... But it wouldn't have to if Apple planned something even bigger and bolder....