The Future of Apple’s Maps

on September 28, 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.