The eyes of the tech world have been riveted to the Moscone Center in San Francisco during Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. This was the first such event in the post-Jobs Era. And this year CEO Tim Cook announced that Apple would ditch Google Maps and include its own maps product, as well as a free turn-by-turn navigation system integrated into iOS. In other words, Apple is moving more aggressively into hyperlocal territory. This could make things pretty interesting.
During the last two weeks I was in Madrid. I lived with Google Maps. I used them to get from point A to point B. And in my searches for directions and locations, I was regularly exposed to hyperlocal content and hyperlocal ads. On more than one occasion, a Spaniard asked me if I had Google Maps on my phone in response to requests for directions. The maps product that Apple showed goes a long ways towards effectively replacing Google Maps. And it’s just the latest salvo in a developing campaign by both sides to capitalize on the hyperlocal market.
Search engine experts I have spoken with say that [Apple] already has all the critical technology pieces including big data centers and highly scalable crawlers with powerful contextual search and recommendation algorithms.
The tale of the tape is now obvious. Both companies have purchased mobile advertising businesses. Both companies have their own Web (and mobile) browsers to maintain control over that part of the online custody chain. And now both companies have viable maps products. Google still has some clear potential advantages on Apple. Google+ is not terribly popular but it is a social network product that can be a vehicle for local recommendations – a functionality Google recently rolled into the product.
And Google’s search engine aggregates reviews around local destinations and includes powerful local search features (search nearby and walking and transit directions are two of my favorites). I actually wrote awhile back that Apple would need a search engine to fully compete in mobile and it’s entirely possible they are heading in that direction. Search engine experts I have spoken with say that the company already has all the critical technology pieces including big data centers and highly scalable crawlers with powerful contextual search and recommendation algorithms.
In my book, it’s only a matter of time before Apple joins Google with a full-fledged search product for its iOS devices. Beyond that, I’m very curious how Apple’s new maps products will tie into other offerings like Passbook. Integrating loyalty cards with an iTunes accounts means merchants can easily pipe offers to a customer that is also connected to a payments platform. The upshot of all this? Follow the money in the next few years. Apple Maps, iTunes, Passport and the other developing applications on iOS are a clear path to entering the hyperlocal market in a very smooth, sophisticated and gradual way – the Apple Way.
Alex Salkever is an executive at a cloud computing company and a former technology editor of BusinessWeek.com. The views expressed in his column are his own and not those of his employer. His Personal Fight column appears every Wednesday on Street Fight.