With 3D maps, Google looks to 'magic' to fend off Apple

With 3D maps, Google looks to 'magic' to fend off Apple

Summary: Don't let the three-dimensional eye candy fool you. Underneath the flashy maps, it's all about business. And business is your data.

TOPICS: Google

I may be a member of the press, but I really do try to avoid pitting companies against each other unnecessarily.

Sure, conflict sells clicks, but the truth is that tech companies are as collaborative as they are competitive -- hopefully by reading ZDNet's ongoing coverage you've been able to tease that out.

No matter. When Google announced yesterday that it would add full three-dimensional capabilities to its Earth service, present on both Google Android-based smartphones as well as Apple's iOS devices, it was just too difficult to find any other reason but Apple driving the folks in Mountain View.

Make no mistake; Google wants its mobile mapping services to get better, with or without its California rival to the south. And it took years for this tech to come about. But the timing was just too suspect.


First, the facts: Google says it deployed a fleet of small, camera-equipped airplanes to fly above several cities and snap aerial photographs, after which the images would be processed through an algorithm to create from them a three-dimensional world.

Reuters reports:

By the end of the year, Google said it expects to have 3D map coverage for metropolitan areas with a combined population of 300 million people. The first 3D cityscape will be available within weeks.

It's much like the company's work years ago with its "Street View" feature for its Maps service, which involved fleets of camera-equipped vans driving many thousands of miles to photograph streets in the world's biggest cities.

At the time, the technology was controversial; that kind of documentation had never before been done before on such a large scale. It was legal, but it gave many private citizens pause.

This time, the controversy is more about the company's underlying motivation. Street View was a landmark step in mapping tech, and gave average consumers a killer feature; three-dimensional Earth is either expensive eye candy (sure, a 3D Eiffel Tower is nice, but...) or an upgrade for the many professionals -- scientists, architects -- who like Earth for its geospatial potential.

To be clear, Earth is not Maps, and so the poke at Apple is not as direct as it first appears. But the company wants to show it has mojo, even if the world's most popular tech company has threatened to turn its back on it and build its own service.


Google says its new maps will be available on all platforms, particularly mobile and including Apple's iOS. But let's get real -- "available" does not mean "native."

Take Apple's existing Maps app on iOS: it's currently powered by Google, but it's not the same experience as using Google Maps in your browser. If you look up a barber, for example, Apple's Google-powered Maps will tell you where it is, its phone number, website address and offer directions to it.

But if you use Google Maps through a web browser, as Google hopes, you also get -- aside from a slightly different interface -- the hours in which the barber is open for business, reviews of the business from elsewhere on the web and a list of related places.

Apple could argue that this is too much information that complicates the experience, sure. But when I'm looking for a barber -- as I was earlier this week -- I really do want to know if I'm visiting a butcher or an artist. But that would mean leaning on Google even more.

So don't let Google or Apple's new flashy maps fool you. Beneath the interface of each is a very real business strategy around you -- and your data.

Whether desktop or mobile, advertisements or software, Google (and Facebook and Yahoo and...) have always played in one true game: your data. That's all that matters. In the digital world, the best way to ensure that your data stays relevant (and lucrative) is to solve enough of your problems to keep you in the walled garden. There's nothing wrong with or deceptive about that; that's what you, the consumer, give in exchange for all of these free, wonderful services. (Or in Apple and Microsoft's case, software and hardware.) We call it a "walled garden" because it's delightful on the inside.

Maps is just one corner of the garden; one brick in that wall. For the longest time, Apple relied (and paid for) Google's service because its rival did the grunt work in establishing it, and it was much easier to pay Google during the iPhone's earliest days than try building it out as it was building out, well, everything else.

But then the iPhone became iOS, and it changed the world. And then Google released Android, and continued to nibble on Apple's heels. As Apple continued to weed out parts of its most popular device that weren't under its corporate roof -- acquiring semiconductor assets removed that dependency; acquiring Lala gave it a (poor) hedge against streaming music services like Pandora; et cetera -- it became increasingly clear that Maps was only a matter of time. It couldn't possibly continue to rely on Google as that company was aggressively moving to eat its lunch -- neither strategically nor financially.

Apple can't just replace Maps without justification; it's too core to the operating system. Whatever it introduces must be marketed as superior in some way to justify the change. So while the company toils away to build some killer feature on which to hang an advertising campaign, Google will press forward in building out its services so that it can be the superior native offering -- after all, whatever it creates will unquestionably be incorporated into Android.

It is the spite of a corporate divorcee: living well is the best revenge.


I fully expect Google and Apple to continue moving in different, though largely parallel, directions. It's necessary for each company to carve a different path for itself, if only to differentiate its product in the market. That means both need to take steps to move away from the service they share today. (To wit: Google's additional announcement that its Maps would be available offline...on Android.) Both need some reason to justify to consumers why they're moving on.

See? Told you it was like a divorce.

But it's not about Maps, or Earth, or any particular service -- it's ultimately about the platform. (Our own Jason O'Grady agrees.) The big lesson here is that neither company will be able to truly, successfully compete against the other before they undo what ties they still share. Otherwise, they're only hurting themselves.

Topic: Google

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • What *does* matter to Google, Apple, and the others?

    You wrote, "Google and Apple (and Microsoft and Facebook and Yahoo and???) have always played in one true game: your data. That???s all that matters."
    But as is often said, that's just not true. For Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, their business is selling ads, so the 'user' is the product that they sell to customers. They will always skirt the edge of user satisfaction, getting whatever they can from those users in order to sell the data to their real customers. Apple's business model is completely different, and for good business reasons their user satisfaction is top priority because the users are their customers.
    (Hard to believe this has to be explained again.)
    • You're right.

      I'll cede to you that Apple and Microsoft aren't focused on data as a primary motivator; I shouldn't have included them in that sentence. I've updated the post accordingly.

      But I think we can both agree, even though it's not the main point, that they can't keep winning without it. They can't keep your eyeballs without products to satisfy you, and they can't keep your satisfaction unless they offer enough products to keep you there, and the easiest way to do that is to make it run from a single account that they then can monitor to better understand how effective their products really are.

      So the data runs both ways, I suppose -- as a means to more sales internally, and as a means to more sales (and thus a better product) for business clients.
    • Don't raise Apple to noble heights quite so readily...

      Bottom line is all said companies are after 1 thing: money. Using your reasoning, Apple wants to take that money from your pocket, the others from corporate wallets.

      And is advertising inherently evil? Have you ever been hungry and went to a fast food joint because their ad was plastered on the back of that bus you'd been following for the last 5 blocks? Or you picked up that electronic device you've been craving at half price because of a TV spot? And while Google puts it out there that AdMob is now owned by them and most Android apps (and a lot of iPhone apps) use it, don't think for one second Apple isn't doing the same thing just because they don't publicize it. Just go to http://advertising.apple.com for proof.

      In short, the very thing you're saying about Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo,... is true of Apple. And in reality, Apple's selling it's customers (you) the perception "their user satisfaction is top priority". Every Apple commercial is an "ad". Hence, what is Apple doing that's different from Google? Google's ads are on a webpage, Apple's are on TV.
      • Nobody says that advertising is evil

        There is just a fundamental difference between how Google and Apple see you, the consumer. To Apple, the consumer is the customer and Apple's first loyalty is to the consumer, especially when it comes to privacy, etc. To Google, the advertiser is their customer and you (the consumer) are their product. Google's loyalty is to the advertiser and not the consumer. They just hope to keep you hooked on enough crack to stick around so that you and your data can be sold. This is reality and there are very few Google fans who truly understand this relationship.
      • No long winded response...

        Your wrong. Sure Apple does sell advertising as well but don't be mistaken, customer satisfaction IS their top priority in regards to generating revenue. Google obviously thinks about customer satisfaction but their top priority is to get as many channels out there (Android, search, docs, GMail....) to collect user data to sell to their customers to generate revenue.
    • Yes and No

      It used to be just plain "ads". Now it is something different. "Targeted ads". The difference is now they require as much data about you to target advertising. That is, it is ALL about your data. They want to make sure their advertisers get the best bang-for-the-buck. To do that, your personal information is up for grabs, your searches are up for grabs, your Google Docs uploads are up for grabs. Someone once said that Google knew more about them than their own mother. If you don't believe it is about the data, then I suggest you sit down for a few hours and read the following from, let's say, Google's website:

      Terms of Service ("Terms")
      Privacy Policy

      Irrespective of their reasoning, look what they expect you to agree to. The question is, is this acceptable to you or not. Many people in my company don't want to read these things so they can have plausible deniability. They are dealing with HIPAA and CJIS data and don't want to be told they have to give up the convenience. One day, they federal U.S. government will come down on people using these services.
  • so basically

    Google did what Bing did? As they flew over in planes taking pictures back when google was just using sattelite views, try going to bing and google and looking at the empire state building..... The only difference is Bing didnt render them in 3d.
    • Bing, isn't that a cherry?

      Another Microsoft wannbe product...
  • If they do it right your data stays yours

    I have more than 10,000 hours in my workbooks, presentations, essays, and earth.Google images. Thanks to Google Drive, g+ and other Google tools, I can find my stuff; bring it to bear on the subject I'm researching or analysing. If Google treats my data properly, it can extract annomous interest tendencies (regression coefficients) or buying likelihood estimates from my data and offer them to the highest bid to an advertiser. Through Google that advertiser can put his add on my device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) wherever I am for whatever I'm searching.

    If Google maps suggests an aerospace museum off Hwy 101, I'm delighted.
    • But it doesn't Work that Way

      If I put up a document with words "Bank Robbery" or "Mass Murder" or "We're going to destroy America" I would expect that I'm the only person that sees that. Instead, regardless of the provider, I'm pretty sure the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. will get a copy almost immediately. Google says that they read your stuff? Are you OK with that? Maybe, unless your business is medical data in which case you are violating HIPAA. Or criminal data, in which case you are violating CJIS. What if your data contains my credit card number, expiration date and security code? I think I have a right to be upset in that case. (You are not doing that to me are you?). Letting employees read your stuff (as Google and others say they do) and posibly give your data to "third part affiliates" as they say they reserve the right to doesn't cut it with me. I can't blame Google but I can blame idiots who don't read the terms of service.
  • Wow so they copied what bing has had for a couple years now. Thats not what

    I would call showing mojo. They have been finding themselves behind and copying bing quite a bit the last couple years and now they're also spending a ton of effort to copy facebook, and O365 is completely kicking their azz. It's safe to say google has no mojo any more. Apple and its users will not miss them for maps anymore than their already not missing them for search.
    Johnny Vegas
    • google will own the map navigation now

      one more nail in M$ and apple's coffins!
      The Linux Geek
      • How do you figure?

        Statistically, Google makes more money off of iOS then they do from Android devices. Moving one more service away from Google isn't going to help Google in any way. The jury is still out on what Apple will introduce next week. If it's better, as many expect it will be, this will be one less customer based from which Google can draw from.
      • Very intelligent of you.

        It amazes me when people predict doom and gloom for companies based on unreleased products.

        1) This update is in Zero products
        2) You have not seen what (if anything) Apple is going to announce

        For all any of us know, Apple might announce that they have updated their maps to take advantage of all of these cool new Google features. Ok, so that's unlikely, but if Apple does have something interesting in mapping and removes Google as the default, it will not be positive for Google.

        But we will see in less than a week.
    • Its official...

      You're an idiot.
  • Sell GRMN

    This is likely to hit Garmin hard, and where it hurts.

    If Apple does produce a mapping product, it will naturally be marketed as "superior." Its superiority derives from the fact that it is an Apple product. It does not really matter that much what it does, just that it has that logo on it.
    • If you're only now considering selling GRMN

      ...you've already lost.
    • Of course it will be marketed as superior

      Do you know anything about marketing? Do you expect them to market their map services as not really as good? Do Google's Android partners market their phones by saying it's not as good as the iPhone but please buy ours? Of course they don't, no marketing person with any brains would market a product as inferior t the competition so why do you seem to think it's an issue for Apple to market it's products as superior?
  • Nothings Really Free

    As for myself I don't care if Google or anyone else knows what I brows or watch or buy on line. I have nothing to hide. If I can have a decent free service in exchange for Google or any service to know what I do on line I don't care.

    There are so many millions of users to track their statistics are actually very global and broken down to demographics. At the level of their servers there is individual tracking info, but nobody is going to take their time to decipher one particular individual.

    If their servers are to throw a few banners on the side of my screen in exchange for looking up something I don't care. I'm getting a free high quality service in exchange for this.

    Jerry G.
    • You have something to hide.

      You have something to hide. You have personal embarrassments, bad behaviors to hide from your current significant other, avoidances of small tax debts, name calling, lying, political and religious views from certain people.

      People who say they have nothing to hide are excellent candidates to live under an ayatollah or some other religious/political dictator.