11 Comments

Summary:

Like breadcrumbs, a series of acquisitions, job postings, and service changes lead to the conclusion that a major change in maps on iOS is coming. The latest clue is a strongly-worded job posting that indicates “radical” improvements are in the cards for maps on iOS devices.

iphone-maps

A new job posting went up at Apple, suggesting the company is continuing to move towards its own mobile map plans, separate from Google. According to the posting, an iOS Maps Application Developer in Cupertino would help “radically improve how people interact with maps and location-based services.” User interface design is a must, as well as a “passion” for location-based technologies.

Certainly, there’s room for improvement in the current Maps app, which has seen relatively few outward updates since introduced with the original iPhone back in 2007. Despite being powered by Google Maps, iOS Maps does not compare well with the latest on Android. Missing features including turn-by-turn directions, 3-D maps, topography, offline maps, and information about places. While Apple is clearly behind Google in map app development, it wouldn’t be totally accurate to say the company has been ignoring map services.

In 2009, Apple acquired PlaceBase, a mapping data service provider, and in 2010, it also purchased another mapping company, Poly9. In both instances, employees as well as software went to Apple. Also, last year, Apple made  a major internal change to the Maps program. Starting with iOS 3.2 on the iPad, and with iOS 4 on all devices, Apple began using its own databases instead of those belonging to Skyhook Wireless and Google for location information.

With an iOS 5 preview expected next month, we may not have to wait long to find out if Apple plans on taking over full control of the iOS map app this year. Rumors of MobileMe development suggests new location-based services like Find My Friends are in store. It’s not hard to imagine maps of friends and recommended places overlaid as layers on the built-in Apple Maps app and dynamically updated. Social networking features, combined with more map services, would be a welcome update in iOS 5, and one that would gain Apple some ground over the competition.

Of course, there’s also risk in replacing the current Maps software, too. Google has spent years continuously improving mobile map software, and a less-than-impressive Apple Maps 1.0 could actually hurt the iOS platform (especially if it lacks wow-factor features like Google’s Street View). The problem is that waiting until iOS 6 next year would only see Google increase its market share, while Apple’s own version of Maps continues to languish. From a consumer’s perspective, the best solution probably be for Apple Maps to coexist alongside the current Google-powered Maps, like iBooks and Kindle for e-readers. However, that would mean a continued dependence on Google for a critical part of the iOS platform, and that would be very un-Apple indeed.

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  1. Not sure if anyone has noticed this yet, but there’s a secure website at maps.me.com that dismisses the uninvited with a cryptic error. Any guess at what Apple might be testing through this site? :-)

  2. I think people are too associated with the styling of Google Maps to change to something else. That’s why Bing Maps will always have a hard time succeeding, because change is hard.

    However, building something unique on top of Google Maps tiles would be a better option. I would still like to see some updates that does make it more complete when compared with its Android cousin, like 3D maps and vector-based drawings.

    1. The map style can be easily changed. For example carifact.com updated the look and feel of both Mapquest and Yahoo maps for very little money. People are associated with Google Maps since it is tied to Google’s search engine. That is Google’s ace-in-the-hole. To beat Google, Apple would need to put a search engine in the map program so they could also do business searches based on the map extent.
      Google has done very little with the look and feel of Google Maps after they bought Keyhole. They have invested more in Google Earth’s bells and whistles, and VERY slowly ported them to Google Maps.
      Apple could easily make their own map system. Lots of other map companies have made the advances that everyone else is building on now. Also, people don’t realize that the coded map data is made by TeleAtlas, Navteq and Europa, NOT Google. Any company can license and use this map data. The smart coded map data is what drives the map program and routing. All Apple has to do is setup a new map server that feeds their own custom map interface. With it would come all the revenue from ads that can be linked with the interface like Google’s. Or Apple could just buy a map data/gis company and control the map data and have more geocoding, routing, drawing, and gis tools than Google. Lots of ways of winning over map users! Apple just has to get moving.

  3. Hugh is right. I hope we have no long to wait that next month to be official :))

  4. Any mapping system that relies on remotely-served data is just a way to generate fees for the carriers. It is way past time for us to have a professionally-built map application that uses high-quality mapping RESIDENT on the device at all times.
    On Google Maps: It takes a lot of knowledge, skill and design sense to produce a digital map that is usable and attractive at all zoom levels. Don’t underestimate the effort involved, or discount Google’s commitment.

  5. Apple could do a much better job making and using their own mapping system. And they need to do something about Google’s map monopoly soon. I use Google Maps at least once a day and many of the businesses I know use it for ALL their business routing all day long. That means Google is getting all the ad revenue from these businesses!

    Google bought keyhole, they did not start from scratch. Apple needs to do the same.
    Lots of map companies out there that Apple could pickup for a good price. Maybe AOL would sell Mapquest?, but the price would probably be to high. And Navteq, TeleAtlas have their own map interfaces as well as control and license the map data that Google uses. That would be interesting to see Apple buy one of these, but the price would be way to high and some of their gps devices would overlap to much with the IPhone. I know Rand McNally could be bought for nothing. They have a well ranked online map system but need cash bad to keep it running. ESRI, could probably be bought for the right amount. Google Earth is cutting into their business more every year. If they come out with good gis tools in Google Earth, ESRI is done! And many other online map companies could be bought by Apple – mapsonus.com, en.mappy.com;etc.

    Also, the reason Google maps are so popular is because so many things link directly to it – Google Business listings, Panoramio, and a zillion other companies that are starting to geocode to maps. Plus Google Map mash-ups and kmls are catching on more and more in business and travel services.

    However, Google Maps does fall short in some areas. First, they don’t clearly show city borders which is horrible for business, routing, and tracking. And they need to update their symbols and road codes better in other countries.

  6. Why do we need an Apple based map series. Answer, We don’t. Apple wants to control the experience down to the smallest detail, so they must have a map system so Google can be kicked out of the IOS world.

    If only Apple would concentrate on making their things like Me, mail, and spotlight work like some competitive Apps, including Google mail and Google’s cloud Apps, the Mac world would be a far better experience than it is.

    1. I take it you don’t use a Mac?

      What does a map system have to do with a IOS. Please explain that one.

      My question(s)…

      Why does youtube/google force you to link your account?

      And why does Google automatically scan e-mails to add context-sensitive advertisements to your private emails?

      And how do I use a non-gmail account for Android Market? … Answer: You need a Gmail account.

      Feel that gun at your head and the bug up your ass yet? Freedom of choice is a dirty word at Google!

      I’ll take Apple’s open IOS and anything Apple makes over Google’s(Big Brothers)stuff.

  7. Apple’s history has been one of loosing partners by treachery or subterfuge or boredom. Adobe, Motorola, IBM, Microsoft all have their own motives and not Apple’s needs for their own progress.

    The iPod’s music system taught Apple what was needed for independent life – although augmented by thousands of small App producers.

    That freedom and the $$$ saved in 10 years has the road map for Apple’s growth its own! A sudden change in Google’s direction and legal reality will not unduly effect Apple!

    It is always safer to be independent than go through an acrimonious divorce – SEE Flash Affair!

  8. piet gorreboot Monday, March 28, 2011

    When the iPhone first came out Apple needed google maps on board and google needed to be present on this shiny new revolution.
    Now that google has their own mobile platform they are taking care to make their products on android JUST a little bit better than on iOS.
    Especially maps and youtube work a lot better on android devices.
    I hope apple can apply their own design esthetic and user experience to an apple-maps-app (is that a word?).

  9. Apple would gain little with replacing their Google-powered Maps app with an Apple-powered Maps app. Apple could gain significantly by instead launching an iOS Maps API to allow all iOS developers to easily integrate mapping into their application. Google Maps as an API is where Google benefits and Apple would be in a very similar position in their ecosystem as Google is on the open web if they launched a solid Maps API implementation. Apple could then harness the power of their developer community to keep up with other mapping software while offering a standard, no bells and whistles Maps offering bundled with iOS to showcase use of the Maps API.

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