Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) was expecting the 1-2 release of its new iPhone 5 and iOS 6 to be a knockout punch that would leave other smartphone makers reeling. It also intended this release to be a body blow to Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) by removing the search giant’s built-in apps, such as YouTube, that have graced previous iPhones and — in the case of Maps — replacing the Google version with Apple’s own.
While we’ve seen plenty of the expected “iPhone 5 Fever Sweeps the Globe” stories with accompanying photos of lineups outside Apple Stores, but there have also been an unusual number of headlines mocking Apple:
- iPhone IOS6 Maps: Apple Updates Maps App, Ruins It
- Apple’s New 3D Maps Are an Apocalyptic Horror Show
Obviously, this wasn’t the reaction Apple was expecting when it booted Google’s Maps off the iOS platform. The company is accustomed to glowing press coverage, but it has clearly botched the Maps functionality in iOS 6 (and by extension, the iPhone 5), and it’s being raked over the coals. There are even blogs popping up tracking some of the more extreme fails worldwide. Among the examples:
- Locations such as Sweden’s second-largest city have disappeared.
- Bridges and highways that appear buckled, warped and twisted.
- Prominent buildings, including universities and shopping malls, shown miles from their actual location.
- Parks misidentified as airports.
- Landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty missing in 3D views.
Apple released a statement through AllThingsD, responding to the criticisms:
“Customers around the world are upgrading to iOS 6 with over 200 new features including Apple Maps, our first map service. We are excited to offer this service with innovative new features like Flyover, turn by turn navigation, and Siri integration. We launched this new map service knowing it is a major initiative and that we are just getting started with it. Maps is a cloud-based solution and the more people use it, the better it will get. We appreciate all of the customer feedback and are working hard to make the customer experience even better.”
The Maps team is supposedly under lockdown, tasked with fixing the mess. However, the problems appear to be deeper than something that a few all-nighters can make right.
So, what happened, and why has Apple risked so much bad publicity — the kind of humiliation it absolutely abhors — just to stick a thumb in Google’s eye?
The answer is that Apple thinks long-term. Although its Maps app looks like it was hobbled together in a matter of months as part of a knee-jerk response, Apple has been assembling the pieces needed to bring mapping in-house for several years. A string of acquisitions — Placebase (online mapping) in 2009, Poly9 (Google Earth-like product) in 2010 and C3 Technologies (3D mapping) in 2011 — telegraphed the company’s intentions quite clearly. It announced its new Maps feature would replace Google Maps back in June with considerable fanfare.
Apple’s version also integrates data from third-party partners such as TomTom, making a highly complex feature even more complicated. CEO Tim Cook and Apple leadership gambled that Maps would gel between June and September, but clearly it was still half-baked.
But iOS 6 couldn’t miss its release date, the iPhone 5 couldn’t slip, Apple couldn’t cave and crawl back to Google and it couldn’t release a mobile operating system or new iPhone that had a “Coming Soon” stamp on its mapping application. So, it went with releasing an app that deserves to be called beta.
Although the mobile mapping function is just one front in a growing war between Apple and Google, it’s a big sore point for Apple. According to ComScore, 31 million iOS users each month spend an average of 75 minutes on Google Maps, making up 45% of mobile traffic to the site. All those iOS users provide feedback that improves Google’s product and increasingly important, provide a huge user base for potentially lucrative locally targeted ads and mobile search.
Apple would like to recapture those eyeballs, thank you very much. Outside of mapping, the two companies are battling or preparing to engage in battle on multiple fronts:
- Mobile operating systems (iOS versus Android).
- Tablets, with Google’s popular Nexus-7 likely to be countered by an Apple iPad Mini in coming weeks.
- TV set-top video streaming boxes with AppleTV going up against various Google TV boxes, including the latest from Sony (NYSE:SNE).
- TVs with Google TV built-in from a wide variety of partners, while everyone waits for Apple to release a long-rumored Apple TV set.
- Digital content sales from e-books to apps, movies and TV shows.
- Streaming audio with Google trying devices like the Nexus Q to combat Apple’s AirPlay and stranglehold on docking audio devices.
- Location-based advertising.
- Digital payment with Apple taking baby steps (Passbook and EasyPay) going up against Google Wallet.
- Voice-recognition assistants with Apple’s Siri taking on Google’s Voice Search.
- The cloud with iCloud up against Google Play and Google Cloud Platform.
In the meantime, depending on who you believe, Google has either completed a stand-alone Google Maps app for iOS 6 and is waiting for Apple to approve it, or has the app in development with a pre-Christmas delivery date. Either way, expect Google Maps to make its way back to iOS 6 and onto the iPhone 5, but without its prominent position as the default mapping app.
You can also expect Apple’s Maps to get better with time. We tend to forget, but Google Maps wasn’t exactly spot on when it launched seven years ago. Apple won’t be able to “fix” Maps with a few days or weeks of overtime, but the core functionality is there, the most egregious issues will be quickly cleaned up in the first iOS 6 update. Then Apple will begin fine-tuning.
By that time, the mobile mapping skirmish is liable to be an afterthought as the two tech giants battle it out on an increasing number of fronts.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not have a position in any securities mentioned here.