Apple iOS 6 map flap gives Google geolocation advantage

Apple iOS 6 map flap gives Google geolocation advantage

Summary: The most recent iOS 6 update has exposed a critical weakness in Apple's armor for their mobile devices, and that's mapping and geolocation services.


dali-ios6maps-620px September 19, 2012. A day that will live in infamy. It was the day that everyone who owned an Apple iOS device and who wanted to upgrade to the latest version of the mobile operating system hit the "Upgrade" button, and found out after their next reboot that their devices were de-Googlefied.

The Google Maps software that provided integrated geolocation services and has so prominently been featured in Apple commercials since 2007 for showing "There's an App for that" in multitudes of 3rd-party apps that make extensive use of Google's Maps was replaced with Apple's own Maps product.

This wouldn't have been an issue if Apple's own mapping and geolocation services were anywhere near as extensive as Google's. But they aren't.

The Internet is now littered with oodles of horror stories of how business, government and major infrastructure listings and map placements are inaccurate and that the built-in navigation in iOS 6 is woefully inadequate.

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To make matters worse, the new 3D features of Apple's Maps software frequently displays Persistence of Memory-esque distortions of highways and well-known urban structures in surrealist form that would make Salvador Dali proud, as shown in my own iPad 3 above.

There's no question that the Apple maps software in iOS 6 needs a ton of improvement and devalues a lot what people loved about their iDevices. The question is, what can Apple do about it?

Clearly, Apple designed their own mapping software in order to distance themselves from Google, because they are now fierce competitors in the mobile operating system market.

But it may have jumped the gun on wanting to rip those Google Maps software infrastructure components out of iOS and terminate their partnership with the search giant, knowing full well how pervasive the software was with the iOS user and app developer community.

Given the harsh feedback that iOS 6 Maps has received, I believe that Apple will (eventually) have to begrudgingly allow Google to submit their Google Maps software as a separate app, much like as it has done with Chrome, Google Voice, Google Plus and now its YouTube app, which has also been de-coupled from the popular mobile OS.

But going beyond letting Google Maps back as an App, and allowing 3rd-party apps to integrate with Google Maps through the iOS MapKit API or alternatively Google's native API set (which Apple may block) Cupertino needs to think about investing in geolocation services and improving its own mapping software and getting it done quickly, particularly if it really wants their users to have true independence from Google's competitive services anytime soon.

Google of course has put a tremendous amount of money in their geolocation and Internet-based map service efforts. Since launching Google Maps in 2005, the company has sent out a fleet of cars to photograph every street in 39 countries covering 5 million miles of road in 3,000 cities all over the world for their Street View feature.

And for all the foodies, Google also bought ZAGAT in September of 2011, and integrated their restaurant ratings into their Google Places and Maps applications in the early summer of 2012.

The company also recently purchased the Frommers business from John Wiley, a well known publisher of travel guides.

Google has also invested significant resoruces in the GeoEye-1 satellite (launched in 2008) of which they have preferred access to for taking half-meter resolution photos for use as overlays on Google Maps as well as Google Earth.

I had somewhat half-jokingly suggested back in October of 2010 when Apple's cash assets reached $50 billion that they might want to consider buying or investing in a major space imaging company like GeoEye, so that Google wasn't the only kid in Silicon Valley with its own satellite to play with.

When they reached $90 billion in cash assets, I said it again. And that time I wasn't joking.

Any way you look at this, Apple is going to have to spend a lot of money to solve this problem. In the interim this may very well mean swallowing some pride and letting Google give Apple's customers the services they are used to enjoying.

In the long term, it means catching up to 8 to 10 years worth of geolocation services development and leadership by Google, and that could involve a crash program of investing in gelocation and geospatial assets, such as GeoEye I mentioned above.

GeoEye, by the way, is currently capitalized at about $629M and is due to launch GeoEye-2 in early 2013, which like GeoEye-1, is going to have the capability to provide imagery to commercial customers at 20" resolution (50.8 cm/.5 meters) and for the government (and its allies, presumably) at 34 cm.

This would be an excellent opportunity for Apple to gain a share of, if not purchase the entire geospatial company outright.

Other assets that Apple might want to consider adding to its portfolio are cartographic firms such as ESRI, DigitalGlobe, MDA Information Systems and GPS navigation software vendors such as Tomtom and Garmin/Navigon, even if it means having to scrap or divest their respective (and dying) hardware businesses in the process.

And should NOKIA fail to successfully market its line of Windows 8 phones next year, Apple might want to consider giving the Finnish company an offer it cannot refuse on its own valuable cartography and geolocation assets, such as Chicago-based NAVTEQ, a leading GIS, vehicle traffic and GPS mapping data supplier that they acquired in 2007.

Does Apple need to go on a spending spree to match Google Maps and the company's geolocation superiority? Talk Back and Let Me Know.  

Topics: Apple, Google, iOS, iPhone, iPad, Mobile OS


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • IOS 6 maps are a joke

    IOS 6 is a joke. Steve Jobs must be fuming as a ghost.

    What's worse, it proves that Apple can sell 2 cents stones painted pretty for ton of money. And there are hoards of foolish people that will actually waste their time to buy it!
    The best advice is Be smart and make money on these foolish actions.
    • I laughed really hard yesterday

      But now I have changed my mind. Seriously. Apple needs to put a strong worded warning that their maps are not to be used for directions as this could result in serious injury or death.
      I can easily imagine someone driving off a cliff as this is what iphone tells him to do.
    • And you upgraded your iPhone when?

      Oh, you don't have one? What a surprise!
      • Sounds like a smart fellow.

        Wait... didn't get suckered did you?
  • Google is about the same as far behind nokia as apple now is behind google

    Still if I were google, now that it's apparent just how incredibly lame apples maps are, I think I'd pull googles maps out of the apple store and get a huge chunck of people to switch platforms over this. This is a shameful eye opening view to what apple really thinks of their customers that they'd let this go out this way. A horrible start to the post Jobs iphone era. Makes tim cook look like absolute crap. time for him to take his focus off getting the chicoms to crack down on his supply chain and focus on quality instead. And what does this say about apples management up and down the chain? There must have been nothing but "yes" men in every meeting telling him what he wanted to hear instead of the truth for this fiasco to hit the shelves. How many times must they have lied right to his face about the quality and time to readiness?
    Johnny Vegas
    • Question?

      Do you have a new Nokia Phone?
      Do you use Nokia maps?
      How long has Nokia had maps?
      Do you use or have used Google maps?
      How long has Google had maps?
      • Dont touch Nokia

        I hate Nokia/MS alliance, but Nokia are masters of maps. Apple are light years behind them. Go away iSheep.
    • iOS map

      Hey they do not have to use iOS maps for direction that's why they have Tom Tom and other navigation systems and they are much better than those that come with any mobile phone.
      • Keep telling yourself darling

        Google maps has become better than any traditional GPS I have ever used (or seen). Even on my ancient HTC phone Google maps rocks and has saved my behind multiple times from pretty bad traffic jams. But nice try!
      • Not true

        Actually the Maps that comes with every Nokia Lumia phone are much better than those that come with any other mobile!

        Check your facts!
    • App Store

      Google doesn't have to pull its Maps app out of the iTunes Store. Apple has done that already according to articles here on ZDNet. Funny that they haven't pulled other mapping apps (Waze is one that people have talked about here), but then the other mapping apps aren't Google's. It's all about Apple spiting Google. No more, no less.
  • 2 different animals try to be something they are not

    Google doesn't care about android as much as apple cares about iOS.
    They just want people to go on the internet and search for stuff
    • Yeah you are right

      They also don't care about their market they don't want people go there and buy anything, they don't want to have full control of their own OS, they don't like they browser either....lets brief this list they just want to go bankrupt!
  • it's bad?

    you said something about geolocation being bad.. but you didnt really give enough specifics for me to get a feel for what you are talking about :(
    Phil Brown
  • So what happened to that BS

    It does just work, it does just word LMAO
  • It depends.

    Two distinctly different business models converging - not completely but to what degree? Should there be a Google Maps app? Yes. Even if there is or even if there isn't, there is a full range of third-party iPhone apps, some of which use Google Maps as you mentioned and others that don't. Navteq and Navigon apps are two of the pricest. There are a lot free apps. FWIW, Total Car Score recently picked its five favorites

    There is a question of scope - how much is too much but that's for a later story...
    • Yes but...

      If I implement them in Android I can set them as default and Google Voice Actions will interact with my new Maps app of choice (but Google's Mapping is simply put the best around) and in iOS, I cannot set a new app to the default, let alone interact with it using Siri!
      • And only Google has streetview. No streetview, no deal.

        Pride is a terrible thing and iFans are paying for it.
  • Just One Flap?

    Apple has been slipping and Google has been growing their product and their Ecosystem!

    Google Maps > Apple Maps (Tom Tom)
    Google Hangouts > FaceTime
    Google Chrome > Safari
    Google Cloud > iCloud
    Android > iOS

    I know it is umm, profitable, to proclaim every iteration of the iPhone as "The Phone" to have but, it isn't reality and hasn't been since the iPhone 4 was unveiled a few years back.

    Clearly, the Maps stand out but, many pro apple sites also site Hangouts as being what FaceTime should have been. Safari is also widely acknowledged as the best Mobile Browser on the planet and Google's Cloud has been built into Android since the beginning with automatic application, contacts, and data restoration for every new Android Device you bought.

    Basically, these products and tons of features, that are presently missing from iOS, make it the better OS on the market but, I'm sure Apple will continue to pilfer features from Android and implement them, half heartedly, into iOS.
  • really?

    I've been happy with Apple Maps so far... everything has been quick and easy and correct. Google maps were only correct for me about 75% of the time. Many things I've checked so far that were incorrect in Google maps is right with Apple's, so for me its a big improvement.

    To the 3D maps... I noticed some places that looked like that in 3D maps until they were fully loaded, but once fully loaded I couldn't find any... but I'm sure there is some. the 3D mapping tech isn't 100% perfect, and even Google's 3D maps has issues too.