Why Apple Won’t Be Flying Solo on Maps Anytime Soon


Former Google CEO and current Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Tuesday that Google recently reached a deal with Apple that will ensure Google search and maps products continue to appear on the iPhone. Speaking at the D9 conference put on by AllThingsD, Schmidt revealed that Google and Apple continue to be good business partners in some regards, even as their rivalry makes working together in other areas harder.

Apple has been rumored to be preparing its own in-house maps solution for the iOS platform that powers the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, based on job listingsĀ and acquisitions it has made over the years. Apple bought Placebase in 2009, a company which offered mapping services with added layers of commercial and public data sets, including employment demographics and other stats, and was looking for someone to “radically improve” its on-device maps as recently as March.

While Apple may be keen to see what it can do over and above what’s already provided by the native Google Maps app on iOS devices, it’s a long way off from killing off the partnership altogether. Consider this: who else even comes close to Google when it comes to mapping products? Microsoft Bing? MapQuest? No matter where you look, Google offers considerable advantages, not the least of which is Street View, which is mimicked, but not matched, by some of the competition. Google also has a class-leading local search database integrated within the Maps app, which makes it easy to find directions.

Apple would have to put a lot of time and effort into its own iOS Maps app before it could even approach what Google is offering, even considering its acquisitions. And Apple won’t replace Google on its platform before its own offering exceeds what it’s replacing; a feature update that seems like a considerable backslide isn’t the type of consumer experience Apple would deliver.

Apple may be using hires and IP purchases with the ultimate goal of providing maps for its own devices, but it’s more likely that those resources are dedicated to bridging the feature gap between Maps for Android and Maps for iOS. Free turn-by-turn navigation, for instance, has yet to turn up on iOS devices, despite it already having been available for Android for quite some time. Apple could also be using the idea that it is working on its own in-house solution to put more pressure on Google to bring feature parity to the iOS Maps app. Google, after all, reportedly highly values its search relationship with Apple, of which Maps is a big part, especially when it comes to local mobile search.

If, as Schmidt says, a new deal has been reached between Apple and Google, we could see more maps features crossover to iOS 5 from Android at WWDC next week, but don’t hold your breath for a completely Apple-sourced Maps app. At least not yet.

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