Is Apple Losing Its Way Without Google Maps?

Source: Apple

Two years after kicking Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL) Maps off of the iPhone with iOS 6, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is slowly removing Google Maps from its remaining peripheral functions in the Apple universe — and may finally be getting around to improving its own map app’s data and navigation.

9to5Mac reports that Apple is taking its own Maps to the Web, switching the Find My iPhone Web app — one of the last features to use Google Maps — to Apple Maps. The conversion is just beginning its rollout, as some users testing it still see Google Maps, but the switch heralds bigger changes that have been slow to come to Apple Maps.

With the launch of iOS 6 two years ago, Apple replaced Google Maps with its own Maps app. The rollout was far from smooth, with users getting angry, confused, and sometimes lost with unreliable, inconsistent data, and strangely distorted renderings. The app also lacked integral features that had been provided by Google Maps, and users criticized the software’s interface, bugs, and data.

Since then, the company has made the switch from Google Maps to Apple Maps with other features, as well. Apple’s Maps app is powered by data from TomTom (TMOAF.PK) and a host of other partners, which Apple lists here. Those who provide “map data” are AND, DMTI, Getchee, Intermap, LeadDog, MDA Information Systems, and Waze, which, interestingly enough, was acquired by Google.

Improvements to Maps were also conspicuously absent from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. TechCrunch quotes a source who said that absence wasn’t at all what Apple intended. “There were multiple improvements that didn’t make it into iOS 8,” the publication’s source said. Earlier in the year, 9to5Mac reported on Maps improvements that the site’s Mark Gurman expected to roll out with iOS 8, citing upgraded data, new labels for airports, parks, train stations, bus stops, and highways, as well as the addition of public transit directions as features intended for the next major iOS release.

Given the dearth of Maps-related announcements at the Worldwide Developers Conference, it’s safe to say that those projects weren’t completed. TechCrunch’s sources attribute that failure to personnel turnover, poor planning, and poor project management.  That’s perhaps compounded by the array of data, resources, and even ideas that Apple is presumably working with; among the navigation and mapping-focused companies that Apple has acquired have been WiFiSLAM, HopStop, Locationary, Embark, BroadMap, and Spotsetter.

It’s vital for Apple to get things right with its Maps app, since navigation and location features are an integral part of the average user’s smartphone use. ComScore recently reported that in May, 90 percent of the time that users spent with maps content was spent on mobile, and only 10 percent on desktop. The only content categories with higher percentages of mobile versus desktop engagement were radio (96 percent mobile) and photos (96 percent mobile). Fast Company recently reported that 75 percent of iOS users and 61 percent of Android users have at least one mapping app placed prominently on their smartphone’s home screen.

ComScore reported that both Google Maps and Apple Maps ranked within the top 15 smartphone apps for iOS and Android platforms in May. Google Maps came in at sixth place (behind Facebook, Google Play, YouTube, Google Search, and Pandora Radio) and achieved 44.3 percent market reach. That’s compared to Apple Maps in 12th place, with 25.3 percent market reach. In the same period, 52.1 percent of smartphone subscribers used the Android platform, while 41.9 percent used Apple’s iOS.

So while about 42 out of every 100 smartphone users had an iPhone, only 25 out of each 100 used Apple Maps — meaning that while the majority of iOS users were using the default Apple Maps, a not insignificant percentage decided to download and use Google Maps instead. So while Google Maps lost millions of users when iOS switched to Apple Maps, Google’s introduction of a Google Maps iOS app has won some of those users back — likely users who would rather rely on Google Maps than Apple’s.

It’s likely that some of those users will balk at the thought of the Find My iPhone feature switching over to Apple Maps, especially before the anticipated improvements have been made. What if you lose your iPhone and Apple Maps can’t accurately find it? Most of the problems with Apple Maps stem from its recognition of points of interest, so problems tracking a lost phone’s location aren’t likely. And given Apple’s list of data partners and navigation acquisitions, the quality of its data is sure to go up, even if changes aren’t rolled out with iOS 8.

It’s unclear so far if Apple’s efforts to improve Maps will also include a full Web version of the app, but what is clear is that Apple has its work cut out for it. Catching up to Google Maps, powered by years of Google’s data and images from its Street View-capturing cars, will necessitate the strategic use of licensed data and acquired resources.

What users want is a smarter, more reliable solution than are currently offered, even by Google. However, two years after Maps’ flawed rollout, Apple is still trying to catch up. The company needs to look to make its mapping and navigation services better before it can even think about trying to be the best.

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