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Apple to Google Maps: Get Lost

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 6, 2012 9:10 AM PT

Since the iPhone debuted five years ago, it's always used Google Maps as the service behind the device's built-in Maps application. However, when Apple releases the next version of its mobile operating system, iOS 6, Google Maps will be out of the picture, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

Apple to Google Maps: Get Lost

"Although there have been strained relationships Apple has still used assets of Google to add to the Apple ecosystem experience," Ben Bajarin, a principal with Creative Strategies, told MacNewsWorld.

"But the cat's been out of the bag for awhile that there are hostile feelings, more from Google against Apple than the other way around," he added.

Aside from enmity between the firms, Apple may want to dump Maps because it thinks it can do a better job.

"Apple wants to deliver a better experience, and it gets to define what 'better' means," Yankee Group Research Director Carl Howe told MacNewsWorld.

Turn, Turn, Turn

Street View and turn-by-turn navigation are two possible sources of friction.

Google Street View allows a user to virtually walk around a location. Turn-by-turn navigation gives a user step-by-step directions to a location in real time. Both applications are available for Google's mobile operating system, Android, but not for Apple's iOS.

Why the iPhone doesn't have Google's turn-by-turn navigation is a mystery, according to Bajarin of Creative Strategies. "I don't know if that's because Google hasn't given them step-by-step navigation as a feature or if Apple has simply chosen not to implement it," he confessed.

In research he's done, he noted, Android users commonly cite free turn-by-turn navigation as a reason they chose their smartphone over the iPhone.

Holding Back

It's unclear whether Google is holding back technology from Apple to gain a competitive advantage for Android, which, according to a report released by IDC Wednesday, will ship 61 percent of the smartphones in the global market this year.

Nevertheless, Yankee's Howe noted, "One has to expect that Google has its own goals for its own products, and it's been doing a lot of work to integrate Google Maps pretty deeply with Android."

"It may be that the two companies may not completely agree on what experience is best for Apple users," he said.

"These companies have been competing with each other," he added. "We shouldn't expect that they will always work together seamlessly."

If Apple releases a Maps substitute, it may hold the answer to why Street View and turn-by-turn have been missing from the iPhone, according to Bajarin. "If Apple releases something akin to Street View and turn-by-turn navigation, then my guess would be that Google didn't give it to them and they wanted it and that's why they did their own thing."

Lining Up Its Ducks

Over the last three years, Apple has been building its intellectual property arsenal through acquisitions for a break with Google Maps.

In 2009, it purchased Placebase, a company known for enhancing maps with information from public and private databases. The acquisition was so below the radar that although it was done in July, it wasn't widely reported until October.

In 2010, Apple acquired Poly9, which develops a geospatial website similar to Google Earth.

And in 2011, it bought C3 Technologies. It uses technology developed by the defense industry to create 3D maps so artfully rendered that they look like photographs.

In addition, Apple has been gathering traffic data from its users since 2010 to build a database expected to form the basis of a traffic map app.

Give 'Em What They Don't Know They Need

What Apple's map offering will look like could be made public as early as next week, when it holds its annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC).

"When it comes to the phone, navigation and maps are extremely useful features for consumers, and I think Apple needs to be aggressive on that front to stay competitive," Bajarin maintained.

"If Apple can bring some things to the table that we haven't thought about yet or do what it does so well -- create stuff that we don't even know we need -- I think it will give it a huge leg-up just because of how important those services are," he added.

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