New Kids on the Block: Apple Maps Launch

The problem with World Domination is that the world turns out to be a pretty big place. Maintaining dominance in all parts of that world gets pretty tough.  Ask the Romans. World Dominators are typically subverted not be someone else who wants to dominate the whole world but by focused efforts to take and own a specific part of that world. I think that’s what we saw yesterday at the unveiling of Apple Maps.

Google has built a excellent, far-reaching mapping and local search platform. Far-reaching is key; Google makes its money from advertising where reach equals revenue.  Google Maps covers fixed and mobile web, in-house and third party use, all operating systems and platforms.  They have out-thought, out-built and out-spent everyone else in the space.

Apple doesn’t need to do that.  They can focus the offering on one OS, a handful of hardware platforms (which they own) and a pretty specific mobile use case. Their goal is to sell more hardware and to own the core services on those devices. Yesterday, we saw Apple narrow the playing field to suit their needs and launch a mapping platform that, while not revolutionary, is well integrated with their platforms and brings some new features to the user.

The Apple Maps features has already been well dissected (I recommend Peter Batty’s blog).   Here are a few further observations:

  • The Basics: You can’t really tell from a presentation how good the cartography or routing or navigation will be. They look very nice and will likely be stunning on the Apple displays.  Good choice of vector maps for the mobile use case
  • Best Practices: Apple did a nice job of picking out some best practices that, while not brand new, are just good ideas that haven’t been broadly deployed.  Alternative routes based on real-time traffic, perspective views as you come to turns, a search function that returns only results ahead of you on your route (personal favorite) are all examples.
  • Integrated with Apple Assets: Since Apple owns the platform, they have the chance to do what Apple does:  integrate the pieces so that whole is better. The most obvious example is the Siri integration.  I have a 50% hit rate with Siri now, so that will need to get better but it will get there.  I really like the integration with motion sensors for rotation and tilting.  Smart moves to deeply integrate in a way others can’t.
  • 3D Eye Candy: Others, myself included, thought that the 3D aspect (called Flyover) would be a bigger part of the announcement. It did not seem to be. It’s not clear what the coverage is or how it will compare to Google Earth. However, remember that when Google Earth was announced, it got tons of attention.  It was and is a very cool platform. But I use Google maps on my devices 20 times a week. I use Google Earth maybe that many times a year. I wonder if Flyover will do something differnet to get more daily use.
  • Data, Data, Data: As expected, Apple Maps uses TomTom data at the core supplemented by a host of other data providers.  They will collect their own traffic data although it’s not clear if they will process that into traffic info themselves or will work with someone like Waze (listed as a data source). Google is working to own and control their basic geo-data and I believe that owning the data and the platform gives Google a huge advantage. It would be interesting to know about the deal between Apple and TomTom, specifically whether they are working more closely that a traditional vendor relationship. . Anticipating a huge use of Apple Maps for search and navigation, you’d think their bill from Tom Tom would be correspondingly huge. But Tom Tom has a lot to gain from Apple.  There is a wealth of crowd-sourced data for TomTom’s Map Share, IQ Routes and HD Traffic products. And frankly, Tom Tom needs this deal. Apple could mitigate the disadvantage of not owning map data by a unique working relationship. [EDIT: Guardian Article from UK speculates that TomTom gets “advertising revenue and a small nominal fee per map if turn-by-turn navigation is used”. Also that they get traffic data.]
  • Missing: Transit routing which I bet they’ll get to.  [EDIT: upon further review, Apple said that third party transit apps will be featured “right in” the Apple Maps. No further details.] Streetview, which will be harder.  Google and Nokia have the capability to built this data on a mass scale.  Apple will need it.
  • Risk Area: Local Search: Any one can have local search, but as Google has shown, really good search technology is differentiating.  And that’s Google’s home turf. It’s also my primary use of mobile maps.  I think the quality of local search may be Apple’s number one risk area. If it is not as good as Google’s, I’m going to want Google Maps on my iPhone.

Last, my congratulations to the Apple Geo team.  They’ve done a lot of hard work and I hope they are justifiably proud of this launch.  Well done guys!

As usual, too long a blog.  Thanks for reading this far.

5 thoughts on “New Kids on the Block: Apple Maps Launch

  1. “the quality of local search may be Apple’s number one risk area. If it is not as good as Google’s,…”

    While I agree this is a big risk area for Apple, and Google has done some amazing things with local/maps, Google still has miles to go on improving the quality of its local search for both users and businesses (particularly for businesses). Apple is the first player to get into this space that seems like it can provide a needed counterweight to Google. And given their potential “narrow” focus, they may be able to provide a much better experience out of the gate, or soon thereafter. Devils in the details of course…

    1. Good point: Apple has the resources to go after this in a big way. It will be interesting to see how it evolves. Apple is very good at building a better user experience for a focused application. For example, Siri doesn’t try to do everything a voice recognition system could do; it’s tuned specifically for the mobile experience. Perhaps Apple can do the same with local search. But Google has a huge effort there to and Maps and Local all report to the same person so you’d expect a unified effort.

  2. It would be interesting to know about the deal between Apple and TomTom, specifically whether they are working more closely that a traditional vendor relationship.

    Interesting doesn’t even come close. I think that there’s only two ways this could have panned out.

    On the one hand, TomTom/Tele Atlas was really the only viable option that Apple had. Partnering with Nokia for NAVTEQ’s data wouldn’t have been an option to my mind, for oh so many reasons. OSM has made massive inroads into the mainstream recently but while OSM is good enough, to quote Mukki Haklay’s assessment of OSM, it wouldn’t be good enough on its’ own to do what Apple wanted to do and have done to a greater degree. Owning their own data set, unless it was via an acquisition no-one knew about, wasn’t an option either. So they had to partner and TomTom was really the only option.

    On the other hand, as this was the only option, TomTom undoubtedly knew this and would, I image, have bargained hard based on this. Only time will tell, or an unauthorised insider leak, as to who gained the upper hand in the relationship. Personally, I suspect Apple did.

    1. Ironically, as you say, both needed this deal to happen but for different reasons. Could be a win-win if Apple gets (a) very good terms for massive use, including the typically expensive navigation application, (b) some sort of guarantee of supply should TomTom get acquired by an unfriendly and (c) jont planning for new data types and TomTom gets (a) a ton of user generated traffic and map correction data and (b) some really good marketing story to feed to all their auto, PND and off-board nav customers who just took another hit.

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