July 10, 2012
Apple is a company that is known for both its product design innovations as well as their fierce customer loyalty. At the 2012 WWDC amidst a bevy of other features, the Cupertino-based company announced the launch of Apple Maps—a proprietary service that would replace Google as the map data provider for Apple devices.
Since the announcement, the web has been furiously trying to determine just how this change will affect the entire “Local” landscape on mobile devices. Google currently has the infrastructure to support accurate highly functional location mapping and, with the launch of Google+ Local, the integration of Zagat data in addition to user reviews all combined to work with the Google+ social network. Apple, on the other hand, will be starting from scratch—having to find their own methods to provide relevant location data.
Apple’s announcement page highlights some of the features that will make their maps “a whole new turn”. Turn-by-turn spoken directions, interactive 3D views, real-time traffic information, Siri integration, and Yelp ratings will all be part of the product when it launches this fall. Most of these are similar to features found on Google Maps—save for the integration of Siri, Apple’s voice-driven “personal assistant” software and the use of Yelp data. Leaked screenshots from the developer kit show the Yelp check-in feature embedded within the map app. Another feature that Apple is promoting is their Flyover—an alternative to Google’s street view which will allow users to see vector-based 3D renderings of cities. The alternative graphic approach will allow users to rotate and theoretically zoom down to the building level.
With only developers having access to the new feature at this time, the buzz on the new product hasn’t been as widespread as curious consumers might hope. Apple faces many challenges ahead in producing a viable competitor to Google. First off, Google has a lot more experience with the entire map concept. Years of data accumulation, combined with a powerful search engine at their back and a product such as Google Places clearly give them an advantage. Apple currently lacks the infrastructure to accumulate local business information and allow for users to “claim their listing” as well as provide feedback internally. They’re going to be relying on third party providers such as Yelp for that information. It’s a two-edged sword in the fact that they’ll be able to acquire reviews and comments from non-Apple users but it also means that Apple will be ceding some of that control to a business partner—something that Apple isn’t famous for doing. (Currently Apple’s mapping data will be provided by TomTom. A copyright page for Apple also indicates that Localeze and Acxiom will also contribute data.) Apple blogger John Gruber indicates that Apple’s mapping program won’t be able to provide its own public transit data requiring users to rely on 3rd party apps. According to Steve Kovach at BusinessInsider.com, turn-by-turn directions won’t work on older iPhones—only on the new iPhone 4S and newer iPads. The same will also apply to the new Flyover feature which has replaced Street View. Nor will Apple be able to provide indoor maps of public locations such as airports or malls initially.
So, why is there the switch from using Google’s data to Apple’s own map system? Aside from Apple’s penchant to produce proprietary solutions compatible with their own suite of devices, why would the amazingly successful company cause such a stir in the Local marketplace? The answer seems to be rooted in one of Google’s more successful consumer products to date—the Android operating system. According to recent data from IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Phone Tracker, iOS phones make up 20.5% of the global smart phone market. Their biggest competitor? Google’s Android OS which accounts for a staggering 61%. Yet, the competition seems to be about more than just the market share—it almost feels personal. In Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Steve Jobs, the Apple co-founder and CEO unequivocally laid out his feelings on Google’s development of Android and a lawsuit against cell phone maker HTC. The lawsuit in question accused HTC of violating patents held by Apple over the technology that allowed a user to dial a phone number embedded in text viewed on a mobile browser. Apple ultimately won the case on 4 charges.
What this ultimately means is that local businesses will now have to work to optimize their presence across two competing platforms instead of one larger data provider. Stephanie Hobbs of the Local Search Association recently published an article at SearchEngineLand that offered up tips to Start Getting Your Business Ready Now for Apple Maps, Google+ Local in which she stated that until more details come to light on exactly how Apple will be using their data providers, businesses should carefully follow news of Apple Maps to determine the best way to maximize their exposure. Others aren’t so certain that this is the best possible move for the company that developed the iPhone and made the tablet sexy. Dan Lyons of Newsweek and the Daily Beast writes that “Apple used to have a very simple mantra—provide the best possible experience for customers. Now Apple seems more concerned with hurting rivals than with helping customers. That’s not a good sign.” Only time will tell if he’s correct or if the company will turn this new venture into the Local marketplace into another success. In the meantime, stay tuned to the Marquette Measure for more information on Apple Maps and how it will affect local businesses.
Screen shots courtesy of Apple.com: