In my long ago sales career, my boss/mentor schooled me in the art of “laying down landmines”, his description of the practice of configuring the competitive discussion to best suit your advantages and mitigate your disadvantages. The goal was to educate the customer on what was important (a) first, before your competition and (b) in such a way that he’s ask your competitor about stuff that you knew he didn’t have. Nothing new there; it’s Sales 101.
That’s what Google Maps just did today, a week in advance of the anticipated Apple Map launch. The things they announced were nice, but Google introduces nice stuff on their maps every month with a lot less fanfare. They have been since 2004. And that was the real point they were making.
If you went today looking for the Next Big announcement, I think you came away disappointed. The most important part of the presentation was not the three announcements; it was Brian McClendon’s first 20 minutes on Google Map history…all the stuff Google does and has done to build the most complete mapping platform in the world. Some commentators found it boring, but if you’re into on-line maps it was a tour de force of really big, hard-to-do stuff that Google has been bringing out in a continuous flow for about 8 years: slippy maps, worldwide coverage, aerial images, single line geocoding, StreetView imagery, on-the-fly rendering, adjustable routes…it’s a pretty long list. I don’t know what Apple will announce next week, but Google tried to lay as many landmines out there in advance. Clearly, they want to set up a scenario that says to Apple “You think you’ve got a map? Let me tell you what a map really is!”.
If Apple is smart (which they tend to be), they won’t position whatever they come out with as a head-on-head competitor to Google. I don’t see how they can. Google’s point today is that the map platform as they defined it is something that takes 8 years, hundreds of thousands of man years and literally billions of dollars of investment. Apple has not made nearly that investment. They may defuse some of the landmines Google laid but they won’t get them all.
I would anticipate that Apple will position their offering not as a direct competitor to Google Maps but rather as a Whole New Way Of Looking At Location. I don’t know what that is beyond tea-leaf reading based on what they’ve bought. But think of Siri. Apple didn’t just say “Hey, you know Voice Recognition? We’ve got that too now!”. They positioned it as a whole new way to interact with your phone, and even bigger with information. I’d expect a similar tack on maps…or whatever they announce.
Confronted with a path strewn with landmines, I believe Apple will just choose to walk in a different direction.