Outside of search, the closest tie between Apple and Google so far was the deep integration of Google Maps in Apple’s products. That radically changed today, though it’s worth noting that the announcement was one of Apple’s worst kept secrets. Now, Apple will now offer its own mapping service on iOS, opening up a new front in its competition with Google. The new maps will offer virtually all of the features iOS users have come to expect from the Google Maps-based default app (with one exception) and a slew of new features like spoken turn-by-turn directions and 3D maps for virtual flyovers.
Google did its best to preempt Apple’s announcement today by scheduling a Google Maps-focused press conference last week. There, the company announced its stunning new 3D maps for Android, but failed to announce when it would actually launch this new feature. It’s now more obvious than ever that this was simply a defensive move on Google’s part, as the company was surely aware that it was going to soon lose its premier position on Apple’s mobile operating system.
Apple’s 3D maps look just as gorgeous as Google’s (and Scott Forestall even used the same kind of San Francisco flyover to demonstrate it). Chances are, Apple is using the same kind of technology to create these 3D maps with airplanes that capture aerial imagery and smart algorithms that then turn these images into 3D maps. As usual, though, Apple is keeping this information to itself.
For the most part, Apple is replicating and expanding on existing features from the currently Google Maps version. There are now built-in Yelp reviews, turn-by-turn directions (I’ll get back to that in a bit) and the same kind of instant traffic updates we’ve become accustomed to from Google.
Transit directions – another useful Google Maps feature – is thankfully coming back in the form of Apple’s own version of this service. (Update: Apple will actually “integrate” transit apps from third-party developers. It doesn’t look like the app itself will feature transit directions.)
It’s not just Google Maps facing some fresh competition now, though. Stand-alone turn-by-turn navigation apps from incumbents like TomTom and startups like Waze will likely become a niche product on iOS soon as well (though, it turns out, TomTom is providing maps data to Apple).
Until now, Google was a step ahead of Apple here, thanks to its built-in navigation app, but Apple is now pulling even (and maybe even a bit ahead). The new iOS 6 Maps app will feature spoken turn-by-turn directions, your ETA will be based on real-time traffic information and when there is an accident or a traffic jam along your route, you will get the option to switch to a faster route instead.
Another new feature on iOS – and one that Android users have also had in similar form for a while already – is the ability to use voice commands. Thanks to integration with Siri, though, chances are that Apple’s voice recognition system will be more flexible, but until we get our hands on this thing, that still remains to be seen.
There is no indication that Apple plans to bring any of these features to the web, so Google doesn’t have much to fear here (and neither has Bing). On the mobile side, though, this new competition is clearly driving everybody involved in mapping to push things forward and innovate quickly.