Google Maps vs. Apple Maps: redistribution of maps?
With iOS6, Apple breaks one of its last links with Google by replacing the Google Maps installed by default on all iPhones with the new Apple Maps. More than yet another skirmish in the battle between the Cupertino company and that of Mountain View, it is a sign that at Apple as at Nokia and Microsoft has understood that cards are one of the major challenges of the future.
Last week, Google carried out a preventive communication operation by inviting American journalists at the heart of the Google Maps project to send a message: there isn’t a map in the world that is as precise and rich as Google’s, and anyone who enters the battle in 2012 would have a hell of a time to catch up.
The point is that, technically, taking over the freely available map data, or even putting up your own satellite photos like Google Earth is almost a snap. Catching up with the 8 million kilometers traveled by Google Cars and the incredible volume of data that this represents is another kettle of fish. With its “Ground Truth” project, the Google Maps team has not only taken into account the millions of small corrections made manually by Bengladians, it has set up image recognition systems that explore Street data. View looking for road signs and other info to get an impressive amount of information.
Apple engineers may have announced partnerships with TomTom and Open Street Map, and offer a neat interface of which they have the secret, Google will have the most complete maps for a long time to come. Not that the difference is immediately obvious: if you use maps for navigation, TomTom’s normally do the trick. But the stakes are higher for Google.
“Organize all the knowledge of the world”
Google’s announced objective is incredibly ambitious, but the Maps project is proof that in Mountain View, we will not hesitate to give ourselves the means to achieve it. Projects like Google Books or Google Street View are not profitable in the short term but can end up paying big. Thus, the digitization of books helps Google, for example, to develop its character recognition capacities, a capacity which is very useful today for extracting information from photos in Google Street View. This information then enriches Google Maps and several other services… And, in the end, all of this makes it possible to offer advertising that is always better targeted, always more effective. In the future, it could even help Google develop a product that could take it much further than advertising: its driverless cars.
Driverless cars are still far from the minds of Apple, Nokia, Tomtom and Bing, however. If they each launched their competing maps to Google Maps, it is above all to collect geolocation data on their users and no longer leave them in the hands of Google. Apple maps are perhaps less good than Google’s, but still good enough for the majority to use. By losing data on millions of iPhone owners around the world almost overnight, Google is taking a hit, and that’s what matters most in the short term.
In the long run, however, who can say if Apple’s choice won’t hurt them too much, too? Today, iOS’s promise against Android is above all that of a better application catalog. But overnight, on a particularly important service (the 2nd most used by iPhone owners), Android will have the exclusivity of an undoubtedly better application.
Be that as it may, from the point of view of the consumer, we should no doubt welcome the arrival of genuine competition in such an essential market.