How Apple Maps Plans to Be Better Than Google Maps
Since the launch of Apple Maps two years ago, Apple has continually worked to make the maps service better and catch it up to its primary competitor, Google Maps. The company’s next move to improve Apple Maps is to crowdsource information on local businesses from business owners themselves, using a new portal that launched quietly this week.
Apple has launched a tool, called Apple Maps Connect, to enable small business owners to manage their companies’ listings on Apple Maps, and even set up indoor positioning in select areas. The new or revised listings will appear within a week on both the desktop and mobile versions of Apple Maps, and the service is free for business owners or their authorized representatives.
To add content to Apple Maps, business owners just need to sign in to Apple Maps Connect with their Apple ID and password (or create an Apple ID if they don’t already have one). Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling stepped through the signup, capturing screenshots of the process. Owners enter information about their business — its name, address, and phone number — which Apple then uses to verify the business in real time, placing an automated call to the phone number to provide a PIN code.
Sterling reports that businesses can also verify later, or verify with an email address. Owners then verify the business’s location, and add other information, such as how Apple Maps should categorize the business, what hours it’s open, and details like its website, Yelp page, Facebook page, and Twitter handle.
Also through the Maps Connect website, Apple is soliciting businesses that are interested in installing iBeacons, Apple’s Bluetooth LE emitters, at their locations. When you click through to the relevant “Maps Indoor” page, the site says that Apple has received “an overwhelming response” to its indoor positioning technology, and is prioritizing venues that are accessible to the general public, see annual visitors in excess of 1 million each year, provide complete and scaled reference maps, and enable WiFi throughout the building.
In a drop-down menu where business owners answer the question: “How are you planning to use indoor positioning,” Apple lists a variety of choices. “Ads/ Promotions,” “Automatic Check-ins,” “Delivering Content/ Information,” and “Navigation/Wayfinding” are among them, and cover the major areas where beacons, and iBeacons in particular, are expected to be useful. Apple confirmed to Search Engine Land that Maps Connect is U.S. only for now, but more countries will be included “soon.”
The most immediate and important effect of Maps Connect will likely be an influx of new and corrected business listings on Apple Maps. Since its launch two years ago, Apple Maps has yet to live down the horror stories of wildly inaccurate listings, imagery, and directions that users suffered through in the app’s early stages. As The Verge reports, Apple has continually taken steps to improve the service, though it is considerably less transparent about the efforts it’s undertaking at any given time than Google is with the work it does on Google Maps.
A detailed and up-to-date listing on Apple Maps would enable Siri to find a local business when users ask for directions or explore what’s nearby. Maps Connect could be a powerful tool for the many small businesses that aren’t yet listed in Apple Maps, and will also benefit Apple Maps users, particularly those who like to discover and patronize small, local businesses. Similarly, interior views would help guide visitors through large buildings and venues.
The launch of Maps Connect also coincides with CultofMac’s recent discovery of a patent application dealing with indoor mapping capabilities. In the application, Apple describes a method of transitioning from a map displaying exterior elements, like roads and buildings, to a map displaying indoor elements, like stores and restaurants.
The technology integrates iBeacons, and indoor mapping would vary based on the type of building. Mapping for a mall could include information about the location and name of each store, relevant sales and coupons, the showtimes of the mall’s movie theater, and the menus of the restaurants inside the mall.
Google Maps is also exploring the idea of indoor mapping with “indoor Google Maps.” Anyone can add a floor plan of a public building to Google Maps, though an appropriate set of content guidelines apply. But as Google’s website explains, “With indoor Google Maps, visitors can spend less time searching for building directories and more time discovering new points of interest. Simply zoom in and out of a building and go floor to floor with indoor maps.”
Apple is working to distance Apple Maps from its notorious launch, and is closer to competing with rivals like Google Maps than ever before. As The Verge notes, crowdsourcing mapping data has become a common practice, and Apple Maps currently gathers information from a variety of sources, including TomTom, DigitalGlobe, Waze, and even the U.S. government.