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.