Since 2005, the dominant maker of digital maps has been Google. Developers, companies and users rely on Google Maps to look up locations, see snapshots of the world and get turn-by-turn directions. Even Apple has always relied on Google Maps for its iOS products, such as the iPhone and iPad. That is no longer the case. Apple has created its own maps program for iOS and it is looking to blow Google out of the water.
Apple is not only trying to replicate maps for iOS, it is trying to redefine it. Whether or not it has done so will be up for debate, but the new maps program demoed during Apple’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference keynote today looks impressive. Siri, Apple’s erstwhile digital assistant, has been integrated into the new product and can help you navigate or tell you how long it will be until you arrive at your destination. By integrating Siri into its own maps product, Apple has just created what will be one of the most popular hands-free mobile navigation systems in the world.
Apple’s new maps will do just about everything you would expect from a maps application. It has turn-by-turn navigation, traffic view and crowd-sourced data with incident reports that can reroute information in case you get stuck. Just like Google Maps, Apple is building 3D renditions of cities and has a “Flyover” feature that will show an aerial view of buildings and landscapes.
Flyover is one of the most interesting aspects of Apple’s new maps, as it can show the user a 3D rendition of certain structures. For instance, want to take a closer look at the Empire State Building? Pin it in Apple’s maps and isolate it from the rest of the picture. Apple has built 3D models of cities across the world to feature in its new maps offering.
Apple’s goal in creating a new maps application has several motivations. Foremost, it wants to cut Google out of the iOS experience, and one of the biggest ways to do so is to cut off access to one of Google’s most important products. Apple has integrated Yelp into its maps and has a listing of 100 million local businesses in its maps product. By tying its maps to a database not controlled by Google, Apple is striking a blow right at the heart of Google’s revenue source: local search, referral and advertising. Apple also wants to create a better-looking product than Google, and the first shots of Apple’s maps show that it can challenge the search giant in aesthetics, especially with the 3D rendering and flyover.
In the end, all that Apple has really accomplished is replicating functionality that was already provided on all iOS devices. While Apple maps are interesting, they are not a groundbreaking development in the history of innovation. Apple’s decision to create maps is all about business, not necessarily the users or the user experience. Apple has entered a market long dominated by other companies, such as AOL (which owns Mapquest), Nokia and Google. All of those companies make comparable services, and Apple, despite its best efforts, will have trouble making a product that will blow the incumbents out of the water. Maps plus Siri? Awesome-looking maps and 3D renditions? Great for Apple’s marketing department but not exactly delivering a new era of innovation.