The Coming Mobile Map Wars
Apple is rumoured to be ditching Google Maps in iOS 6 and this has Google a bit concerned, understandably. iOS 6 is likely to be announced and possibly released at WWDC 2012 next week.
So Google held a press conference this week to announce their plans for maps. Which apparently went really well:
@jlgolson: That's the worst presentation I've ever seen. How was that anything exciting at all? It was more the "history" of maps than the future.
@stevekovach: What a waste of time.
@MattRosoff: Takeaway: Google is terrified of Apple Maps whatever, and Apple hasn't even announced anything yet.
What Google actually unveiled today is their own vulnerability in the space. Beyond a few tiny leaks, no one knows what Apple's mapping product will be like. Google has by far and away the best mapping product on the planet. But they still felt the need to hold this meaningless press conference today. That's fighting down, not up. And it's a big mistake because it conveys the opposite of what Google was trying to convey: concern, not confidence.
Assuming Apple does unveil a new iOS maps app, the one big follow-up question is what will happen on the web? Apple doesn't traditionally do a great job of web apps, although the iCloud.com web apps for Mail, Contacts, Calendar, and Find my iPhone are done surprisingly well for Apple1.
I think Apple will, at least initially, simply not care about the web side of mapping. They'll ditch Google Maps as the backend for the native maps app in iOS and replace it with their own mapping app/technology. Most people assume the mapping app on iOS is one built by Google but it's actually an Apple map, just using Google's data/mapping service. Kind of like how iPhoto for iOS ($4.99 in the App Store) uses their own mapping technology for GPS coordinates of your photos. iPhoto for iOS was a test of Apple's mapping tech.
I have no idea how many people use the native Maps app now on iOS as opposed to searching in Mobile Safari - but I know if I really want to find my way somewhere, the native app is much easier to use than browsing to Google Maps in Safari. So Apple takes over that experience and leaves the web browsing usage of mapping technology to Google - for now.
At some point in the future, Apple releases a Mac App using their technology so that you can more easily send directions and GPS coordinates between iOS and OS X.
Or maybe not? Maybe desktop/laptop usage of mapping technology is on the decline and Apple just focuses on making the best possible mapping app for iOS. If the app is so good on my iPhone, I'll be much more inclined to pick that up if I need to find my way - even if I'm sitting in front of a 24" iMac.
Whatever happens, it'd be interesting to be a fly on the wall of Google and Apple's mapping teams as it all plays out over the next couple of weeks.
- iWork.com on the other hand is a very pretty way of looking at your documents without actually being able to do anything with them. It's the strip club of web apps. ↩