Apple and Google Go Head to Head Over Mobile Maps
By QUENTIN HARDY June 17, 2012
SAN FRANCISCO - Get ready for the mobile map wars.
For many people, phones have become an important way to navigate the world, and mobile maps are at the core of the journey. They are often the critical element in commerce, socializing and search. So far, Google has reigned supreme in the mobile map world, with its maps on every iPhone sold so far - and, of course, on every phone based on its own Android operating system.
Last week, though, Apple gave notice it would enter the battle, announcing that in the fall, its phones would no longer carry Google maps, but instead would have Apple's own map service built in, part of its new mobile operating system. Maps are simply too important to be left to a rival.
The question is: Can Apple build a map service that does as good a job, or a better one, than Google has?
If Apple slips up, consumers in the highly competitive smartphone market may have a good reason to turn to Android phones. If Apple succeeds, Google will be under pressure at a time when it already has to deal with other competitors in map services.
"It makes Apple more valuable and denies Google a lot of user data, and a brand presence, on the iPhone," said Ben Bajarin, an analyst with the technology research firm Creative Strategies. If Apple cannot meet or exceed Google's maps, he added, "it will irk their power users," who are the most valuable customers.
Apple's move into maps was not exactly a surprise. It has bought a few companies that make mapping features, like three-dimensional visualizations, and has secured rights to data like the names and layouts of streets in over 100 countries from TomTom, a big digital map company based in the Netherlands.
But making digital maps is not easy. Google has spent years working on its services, pouring all kinds of resources into the effort, including its Street View project to photograph and map the world. It will be hard to duplicate that depth and breadth.