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.
Google Maps in iOS was no more.
This wouldn't have been an issue if Apple's own mapping and geolocation services were anywhere near as extensive or as accurate as Google's. But they aren't. The new Maps software has been lambasted by the media as well as the company's die-hard fans and it has been a public relations disaster for the company.
Apple's CEO, Tim Cook, has issued a public apology, and has stated that the company "fell short on its commitment... to make world-class products that deliver the best experience possible" to its customers.
Is iOS 6 Maps a Cupertino speedbump? Yes. Has it given Apple a dose of reality orientation and given it a badly-needed dose of humility when arrogance has been its operating principle? Definitely.
Is the company going to stop selling iDevices like hotcakes and provide a wide opening for its competitors to knock it down to irrelevance?
With the release of iOS 6 and the Map Flap, the company's ability to innovate has been brought into question.
When we talk about Apple’s mobile operating system, we really have to think about it in the context of entire products, and that is because the company enjoys a level of vertical integration with hardware that is essentially unparalleled in the entire industry.
For Apple, iOS is the software that drives their mobile hardware and to which they have an exclusive and is tuned specifically to run on their custom-designed microelectronics. Nobody else can do any kind of value-add on top of it. That’s just the way it is.
So to compare it to something like Android which is designed to run on a much, much more diverse pool of hardware, which is then in turn further modified to meet OEM and carrier requirements which try in almost a futile attempt to differentiate from each other to make one smartphone or tablet stand out from the rest of the pack is a bit unfair.
There is no question that from a holistic device plus software standpoint that Apple is driving all of the innovation in the mobile industry with their products. The iPad 3 and the iPhone 5 have the displays and the SoC’s and the industrial design to beat and by far have the most compelling and innovative apps being developed for them.
Right now, not a single vendor can match what Apple is doing with mobile devices as a whole, no matter how you read into the rhetoric from the respective platform evangelists.
What we’ve learned from the Map Flap is that there are things that Apple does extremely well and there are things that they don’t. Clearly, the company has a deficiency when it comes to geolocation and geospatial services, and it was absolutely a major tactical error for the company to extricate itself from its Map data relationship with Google a year early.
However, Apple does have one thing which gives it a huge advantage, and that it has over 100 billion dollars in cash. That pretty much gives them the power to buy any properties it needs or sign multi-year partnerships with Google’s competitors (Think Yahoo! and Microsoft Bing!) to boost its geolocation services and search portfolio or fill any other services gaps by hiring people with the subject matter expertise that it needs to build their own.
Ramping up software development to fill these gaps takes a lot of effort and money, but when you have the financial resources to fund several Manhattan Projects at once, you can make these problems go away relatively quickly, although I think it may take two or three years for Apple to reach parity with Google on the geolocation services front.
Can Apple safely remove Google integration throughout iOS going forward without annoying customers?
What the company faces is the very real possibility of having to let Google Maps back in as a dedicated app and to provide unrestricted access to Google’s Map APIs. And by the same token, Google would be utterly stupid to reserve the Maps software and services strictly to Android and not take advantage of the huge iOS customer base for their various services offerings, as the company’s CEO, Eric Schmidt recently intimated.
So how does iOS currently stack up to Android and Microsoft's Windows Phone in terms of innovation and raw capabilities?