Thursday, August 02, 2012, 12:33 pm PT (03:33 pm ET)
Apple wants to wipe Google off the map with iOS 6
This all happened before
Apple's strategic move to its own in-house Maps isn't entirely unprecedented. The company initially established Safari's WebKit as the primary mobile web browser by making it the default and only option on the iPhone, leveraging its quality and usability to attract customers who rapidly abandoned the primitive browser experiences offered by RIM, Palm, Microsoft and Nokia's Symbian.
More recently, while Google had spent years developing support for its mobile Speech Services technologies, Apple rapidly customized its own Siri acquisition and instantly captured the leading role in delivering usable, desirable voice assistance services with last fall's iPhone 4S launch.
By erasing its dependance upon Google to power iOS 6 Maps, Apple will also starve Google of massive amounts of maps-based traffic that the search giant uses to compile its own traffic and transit data. Apple will now keep all that data itself, giving it the upper hand in being able to see what features people are using and in subsequently developing future Maps features that best target those needs.
Google (and Apple's other competitors) aren't building web browsers, speech and mapping services for free; they're doing so because they hope to eventually use those services to support some sort of sustainable business model (in Google's case, typically advertising). Apple is simply reconnecting those services to add value to its hardware, which seems to be a far more sustainable business model given that the company has come from nowhere to become worth more than Google, HP/Palm, Microsoft, Nokia and RIM combined in the last few years.
Apple partners more closely with Yelp
At the same time, Apple's new iOS 6 Maps is partnering with some of Google's maps-related competitors, including Yelp, the review service that today's Siri already relies upon for local information and user reviews.
In iOS 6 Maps, users will be able to access Yelp for reviews, user submitted photos (or submit their own pictures), write "tips" and check in at local businesses. Siri will also expand its feature set to provide more extensive support for looking up locations and providing directions to them.
Google attempted to use the popularity of its Maps services to essentially replace Yelp with its own Places, a feature of Google Maps that actually offers the potential for earning all-important revenue.
By giving Yelp a large new audience with Siri last year, and expanding that partnership to provide local reviews and check-ins in iOS 6 Maps, Apple is not just forging a competitive partnership to bolster its own offerings, but also lending critical support to Google's competitor, a clear shot that targets the very revenue centers of Google's mapping plans.
With iOS 6 Maps, Apple is again in the position of taking on a virtual monopoly that nobody else has dared to effectively challenge, just as when it introduced its Safari WebKit browser under the dark shadow of Microsoft's Internet Explorer in 2003. This time, however, rather than taking ten years to whittle down the dominant player to about half its size, Apple's iOS Maps will likely take away the most valuable half of Google's mobile map traffic almost immediately, and begin sharing that traffic with its new partners.
Apple gets social without Google
Apple's partnership with Yelp also highlights how Google's own Android platform is making itself less attractive to the search giant's rivals; Google operates Android as a means to further its own search and advertising interests, rather than as largely neutral platform open to third parties. Apple is running its online services to add value to its hardware, leaving opportunities wide open for third parties like Yelp.
Apple has similarly forged new partnerships with Twitter in iOS and OS X, and plans to release similar OS-level sharing and integration features for Facebook this fall. That's a parallel challenge to Google's attempts to displace Twitter with its own Buzz, and subsequently clone Facebook with its own Google+ social network. Apple has not indicated any interest in adding similar OS level support for Buzz or Google+.
Apple's shift toward partnering with Google's rivals began with the opening up of new options in Safari for general web search. The disconnecting of Apple's exclusive search deal with Google first opened up opportunities for Bing and Yelp, and most recently for regional social and search services including an array of Chinese web services.
Google has spent huge amounts of money promoting Chrome, ChromeOS and Android in order to broaden and its solidify potential audience for advertising. However, Apple has vast powers to divert Google's audience away, just as Apple originally diverted large audiences to Google ten years ago when the two companies partnered in web search, then in mobile services.
Apple's new Maps in iOS 6 aren't just a new strategic competitive direction however. The new app also introduces three important new mapping technologies that promise to revolutionize how users access mobile maps, as the subsequent report on iOS 6 Maps details.
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