The Future of Apple’s Maps

by Ben Bajarin   |   September 28th, 2012

It looks like the Apple Map story may dominate the conversation today, so I figured I would write something I have been thinking for a while. If you follow much of what I write or much of our focus at Creative Strategies, you will know that we like to look at the big picture. When you look at things from a big picture perspective, you rarely get stuck focusing only in the here and now. All roads lead somewhere and we can choose to look 5 ft ahead or we can look down the road trying to anticipate where it leads. I try to focus on the latter.

Most of the criticism I have seen is not that Apple created their own map software and experience. But that they deprived their customers of what was a superior experience with Google Maps. For iOS customers, Google Maps was the standard and even though it didn’t have turn-by-turn navigation, it sufficed as a map and location service.

The bottom line is, Apple is in transition, this is necessary for the future, and yes it could have been handled better. The open letter from Tim Cook to Apple customers says it all. I personally believe that Apple’s Maps, as it relates to the iOS experience will provide the best possible experience across the platform and is essential to the future of iOS. Many may reasonably suggest that Apple could have added their own map app and left Google Maps on the platform during transition. But as Tim pointed out in his column today, including Google maps would only be letting Google gather more valuable data from iOS customers and thus continue to help their competition.

With that in mind, it is interesting to think about where the Apple Maps road leads. Earlier today Tim pointed out why this move was necessary for Apple for their strategic future and to provide better experiences for Apple customers. I want to look at the future.

More Than Navigation

I used to use Google Maps on iOS as often as anyone. I commute all over Silicon Valley going to meetings at different tech companies all over the Bay Area. Turn-by-turn navigation was what I was missing most from Google Maps on iOS. In fact since I am sent many Android devices, I generally always kept an Android device with me so I could use the turn-by-turn feature. Then my behavior changed. I recently purchased a new car, the Kia Optima Hybrid, which has in-dash navigation included. All of a sudden turn-by-turn navigation is no longer that important to me. In fact I made an interesting observation while car shopping. The vast majority of entry level packages from most major car companies, include in-dash navigation as a feature.

This leads me to believe a strong case can be made that over the next decade, and as people get new cars all over the globe, turn-by-turn may not be the key feature of maps going forward. For Maps, it must be about more than just navigation to compete in the future.

Search, Discover, Decide

What then is the bigger picture task or job that we will be asking a map application to do for us, both now and in the future? Maps is an interesting application in this regard, because it is fundamentally different than a web search. When using a map application, I am desiring something relative to a location. How do I get somewhere from where I currently am? What is around me of interest? Have my friends said or done anything interesting relative to my current location? Are any establishments near me offering any special deals? What are others saying about an establishment near me? I want Dim Sum for lunch, what are the best places around me and what have others said or recommend? The list goes on.

Google handles this in a very interesting way and one that always frustrated me, specifically when it came to reviews or offers. Google Maps on Android prioritizes Google services. Google Maps on Android was recently updated to include Zagat official reviews but user reviews are still only from Google users. Apple’s Maps, however, integrates Yelp consumer reviews right into the map application. A quick search for my favorite BBQ joint near my house on Apple’s maps resulted in all several thousand Yelp reviews. While the same search on the latest Google Maps app yielded 30 reviews from Google users. This got me thinking that it appears Apple is building a map platform that will extend value to app developers to integrate their location based services and data into. This approach is fundamentally different than Google Maps and to be honest Apple’s approach is better for developers.

This is not to say that Google can not or will not take this direction in the future but I would point out that they would be following Apple in this regard if they do. From the short time I have been using Apple’s maps to search for places to eat or go near me, I have already found the experience more useful in making a decision then I ever did Google Maps. And I have been using Jelly Bean on the Galaxy Nexus exclusively for the past three months.

The future of Apple’s Maps looks to be something both consumers and app developers working on location based services can get excited about. Apple is taking an approach that looks to let developers integrate and extend the valuable services and data they are generating into the overall map experience. This approach is good for others, while the other is good for just one company and that companies services.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research. He is a husband, father, gadget enthusiast, trend spotter, early adopter and hobby farmer. Full Bio
  • don108

    I don’t know about others, but I have been led astray by Google Maps so many times that I have long ceased to trust it.

  • FalKirk

    I’ve been using the new map app since it came out and it’s a huge improvement for me since it a) integrates with the iPhone OS; b) works with Siri and c) provides turn-by-turn directions. That’s just one man’s anecdotal experience. Take it for whatever it’s worth.

  • sam

    This columnists doesn’t understand how crappy Yelp reviews are. I do not trust Yelp simply because it is been misused by a number of reviewers. On the other hand Zagat is the gold standard for restaurant review and i think everyone is missing that point.
    Is that not similar to apples controls over apps Vs Google’s open hand approach?
    probably something to think about.

  • Chuck in Dallas

    Google definitely will miss the input of the iOS community. As they move foward with autonimous drive vehicles, they will need as much individual feedback as they can get.

  • SkyRaider

    It amazes me that NOT ONE journalist (that I’ve found), nor Apple Maps whiners, has mentioned the really interesting tidbit of Apple’s “Eyes Free” auto integration service that has already been announced,

    http://translogic.aolautos.com/2012/06/11/apple-announces-siri-enabled-eyes-free-car-integration-google-l/

    …as it relates to WHY Apple had to release these maps now. In my opinion, they HAD to go public at this time and before Apple Maps were directly tied to the operation of automobiles.

    Personally, I like the Apple maps and having checked many locations, haven’t found a show-stopping problem yet. The majority of my searches covered Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. It has rough spots, but I have encountered MANY errors in Google Maps too. I have submitted suggestions and corrections to both Apple and Google. Google often fights me on their errors and it takes months to get them fixed…if ever. I hope Apple is more welcoming to requested corrections.

  • Rich

    Ben, I have three questions…

    (1) When you bought a car with in-dash navigation, why did turn-by-turn navigation become less important to you?

    (2) I just read that a survey of 5,000 iOS users showed that when they began using iOS 6, 35% of them used Apple Maps, but within 5 days only 4% were still using Apple Maps. What’s your assessment of this?

    (3) Do you have any prediction for how soon Apple will be able to make a significant improvement in users’ satisfaction with Apple Maps?

    • benbajarin

      1. I find the overall experience and convenience of inputing my destination and using the car turn by turn over the phones. Part of this is because the screen is so large, so when I have only a quick second to glance at a key bit of on screen information to know how to navigate a tricky turn, it works much better on a big screen. Especially when I am trying to get somewhere in San Francisco, where I have literally almost killed a pedestrian navigating a confusing turn and staring a small screen for too long.

      2. The conclusion that several tech sites have pointed out about the 80% less data being pulled from iOS maps due to their more effective data use, will give the appeal that less are using it due to the limited data pings, but this is not the case.

      3. I’ve noticed places in my area that were named wrong that I reported errors on are already fixed. This is not a scenario where it needs to be a downloaded update, it will happen over the cloud in real time. So could be fixed daily.

  • jfutral

    When people say “turn by turn” does this inherently include re-routing on the fly? That lack is why I never really depended on the Maps app except for the most rudimentary needs. I bought Navigon back when it first came out on iPhone at the introductory price. I always wished I could have had that be my default map, or at least a choice of maps, when clicking on an address not just because of turn by turn, but also re-routing on the fly if I missed a turn or decided a particular route was too heavy with traffic.

    Joe

    • jfutral

      Also, back in the day and sometimes even now in places in Connecticut, there re places that there is no wireless connection. Having the map pre-installed was the only way to go, literally!

      Joe

  • kcwookie

    I don’t see this whole maps thing as a big issue. Google maps were buggy, so why are they getting a pass. My experience with iOS 6 maps has been great. The integration is much better than before. It has gotten me everywhere I’ve asked it. The turn by turn works. I’m not going to replace MotionX due to the new Maps anymore than I did with Google maps.

    Quoting the Bard, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

    • steve_wildstrom

      A lot depends on where you are, since the quality of the maps, search, and guidance varies greatly by area. If you were in the Washington area and looking for a route to Dulles Airport, you might be bothered a lot by 1) the fact that a search for Dulles Airport gives you a taxi company in downtown DC and 2) when you find the airport, the route it gives takes you half and hour out of you way without getting you quite to the airport.

      • kcwookie

        You are right, if you lived in KC you wouldn’t be have all the problems. It might not be perfect it can find Kansas City International Airport. I do see that if I asked for directions to KCI, I end up with the taxi company you spoke of. If I said exactly what I was seeking, Siri and Maps seemed to work fairly well.

  • mhikl

    From what I have been reading here, at Daring Fireball and elsewhere, a Google query provides answers every time, whether or not the criteria of the query is met. An Apple query provides the answer if the search criteria is met, and no answer if if can’t fulfil the request. Apple comes out looking the failure even though neither map met the search criteria.

    I can see how Apple’s approach would generate resistance in the beginning. I can also see how Google’s approach would generate, over time, more frustration. The challenge for Apple is similar to the challenges to fine dining. It is easier to appease a hungry stomach than to develop good tastes. Google doesn’t care if it frustrates its customers as long as it pleases them enough that its efforts are seen as useful. That is the short term approach for the hungry and Google is always on the prowl to protect its revenue. Apple is rarely hungry and never in a hurry for a quick meal. Bells and whistles are catchy, in the beginning. Living by iteration is an acquired taste.

    Google’s greed may be its shortcoming. It hungers for the data its Apple clients provide, but it also wants its own platform to bid Apple its comeuppance. Balancing acts are difficult to master and Google may have cut its nose off in its rush to show Apple up. Apple has patients and mindfulness. It bided its time until Google proved it had no desire to provide its Apple clients the kind of experience they have come to expect as their right. And then it plays the dance of the wronged cuckold. We’ll see short time from now how this programme works out, but Apple usually makes a hard turn only when it has a sure card up its sleeve.

  • eyemahsource

    I think in-car navigation devices will not deprecate the importance of maps on mobile devices. I have been using an iPad 3 hung over the top of my car display. Running Navigon with maps downloadable by state, I’m not dependent on a connection to the cell network. I take it with me when I leave the car as leaving it in place would be asking for a broken window or overheated device and it’s too useful otherwise to leave behind. Former car guys are becoming computer guys as that is where the hyperbolic development graph is. I don’t want to chose a car based on the car company’s randomly selected computer platform. I am far more interested in Apple’s vision than Volkswagen’s. The car company that merely provides a useable shelf, headphone input jack and USB port will do a far better job of serving their customers. Look at it this way. What are the vanishingly small odds that any given customer want both that brand of car and that brand of computer platform. Furthermore with a platform with lots of developers we might see 3rd parties improve on car specific software such as human readable diagnostics linked to repair videos instead of arcane numeric codes.