Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why Apple Maps Doesn't Matter

It's official: Apple is challenging Google's so far uncontested flagship product Google Maps. The move was foreshadowed long ago by its acquisitions of Poly9, Placebase, and C3 Technologies. Ever since the blogosphere has been growing hot meticulously comparing features of Apple Maps side-by-side with Google Maps and arguing over future development potential. A few of the best 'street view' articles are listed at the bottom.

We want to take a step back again and look at the issue from a 'flyover' perspective and answer a big question raised by F. Manjoo from Does Apple Maps matter?
"Is Google worried that Apple’s defection will substantially reduce its user base, and, consequently, the advertising revenue it gains through maps? Does the search company fear that it could lose its place as the online mapping leader, a position that has long been one of its competitive advantages? Is it concerned that Apple might build a better, more useful maps app?" 
  Our answer is: IT doesn't matter! Here is why:

1. The highly publicized mapping war is an arms race with no clear winner. Apple will succeed in  locking away more its users from Google's reach through its own mapping standard. We do acknowledge that this will somewhat inhibit Google's revenue potential. But it's likely that you're only gonna be an Apple Maps user if you buy into the Apple product chain. For those who don't, Google Maps will remain the standard. Both companies will continue to improve their apps through marginal innovations with one copying the ideas of the other. In fact, as a preemptive response to Apple's anticipated announcement to launch its own map service, Google promised to deliver its own 3D flyover version by the end of 2012.

2. Don't forget about Microsoft and Facebook. Each company tries to lock in user traffic with its integrated services in order to monetize it in some way. Although far less popular, let's not forget that Microsoft also tries to play in the arena with Bing Maps (see Google vs. Bing comparison). Facebook will have the muscle to break away from Google Maps if it wants to, although this is unlikely to happen any time soon. However, leveraging spatial data with social network data could create an enormous advantage for Facebook over both Google and Apple. The point is, the mapping market is not a duopoly but an oligopoly, which diminishes the ability of any one player to dominate.

3. Mapping becomes commoditized. Although hotly contested, Nicholas Carr made a valid point in his  best-selling book Does IT Matter? describing how IT generally loses its strategic importance as it becomes widely distributed and universally adopted. He draws on countless examples dating even back as far as the invention of the steam engine, the light bulb, or more recently ERP software and the internet. Mapping software is already becoming basic GIS infrastructure. Neither Google nor Apple nor Bing have much proprietary to really edge out a competitive advantage. Any temporary increases in market share will eventually erode in the competitive battle over mapping superiority. The battle over who will have the most up-to-date 3D airplane pictures, the most detailed views of the Grand Canyon inevitably drive up the cost content and reduce profit.

So what's the alternative? That we do not have an answer to. But in the end, as with all infrastructure technologies, 3rd party consumers and businesses are the winners. We all get to enjoy the neat benefits of being able to preview the Grand Canyon in 3D flyover motion before having to set a foot on a trail. Well, at least this kind of benefit we shall leave up to debate...


Side-by-side comparisons of Google Maps and Apple Maps:
  • offers a side-by-side comparison of the basic mapping features of Google Maps and Apple Maps concluding that Apple's version at its current state lacks the granularity of Google's.
  • highlights the differences in both but in the end focuses mainly on Apple's distinctive features including turn-by-turn navigation, Siri integration, traffic, local search, and 3D flyover.
  • argues Apple's inferiority to Google Maps on a higher level based on the pre-beta version. 
  • stresses the gains and losses in mapping functionality on the new IPhone generation.
  • offers a neat expansion of Gizmodo's side-by-side comparison.


  1. Good post with one exception: Microsoft is basically using Nokia's mapping platform and seems to be dropping its own Bing maps. So the three big map platforms will be Apple (on iPhone), Nokia on Microsoft and Google on everything else.

  2. Thank you, very valuable insight. We believe that there should naturally be at least 4 - 6 widely distributed free mapping applications that enjoy popular usage given the monetary potential in this market. A new article related to who else this might be is in the works...

  3. For your new post you might want to consider the role of open street maps. Being open source, a lot of specialized maps features get included, like hiking trails for instance.

  4. Such a useful content. A really great source of information for me. May other's also get benefits from this. In comparison to Google Maps, Apple Maps offers outdated common road regions in important major cities. Traffic shows significantly less fine detail.