Apple Charting New Future for iOS Maps — Without Google?


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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