iPhone 5: What Passbook and Maps Could Mean for Hyperlocal

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Apple is set to announce the iPhone 5 during a press event in San Francisco later today, and with it, a set of features that could deeply impact the hyperlocal ecosystem. The signal-to-noise ratio when it comes to Apple rumors is infamously skewed — a lot of speculation with little fact. But new features like Maps and Passbook have the potential to become core, high-growth platforms within the hyperlocal industry, and the deeper integration of Siri could move the needle in local search.

Apple’s big stick is its consumer base, and it grows that base by building platforms that foster third-party innovation. One of the big stories to watch at the event, and in the months following, will be the extent to which Apple creates a viable opportunity for developers to build on top of these new platforms. With Google bringing local content deeper into Android with Google Now, Apple needs to find a balanced way to leverage external content sources without sacrificing user experience.

Apple made waves a couple of months ago, when the company announced that it was dropping Google Maps to pursue its own proprietary mapping application. Google’s maps team is one of the search giant’s largest operations, and reaching feature parity will take time for Apple. The company has already said that users will be pushed to third-party transportation applications depending on a still unclear set of criteria, so look for the players like HopStop and Waze to see a big bump in traffic early on.

But the more interesting story will be whether Apple will look to continue to build its Maps service as platform or close the ecosystem as it closes on feature parity.

Siri, Passbook and Location Content
The speculation over whether the iPhone will include near-field communications (NFC) technology has largely painted Passbook as a lily pad of sorts, from which Apple can push into payments. And while Apple may venture into the payment space, Passbook is as much about content management as it is about commerce. The application’s main functionality is the ability to push “passes” — cards with interactive online-to-offline content like a boarding pass or loyalty card — to users, based on location. Like notifications, which Apple launched with iOS 5, Passbook brings content outside of the application and into the main user experience, reducing friction and increasing engagement.

Apple’s decision to integrate Siri deeper into iOS 6, which includes a partnership with Yelp for local content, is part of a similar push to make content and functionality traditionally siloed within applications more accessible. Within the local space in particular, the explosion of local content over the past two years combined with consumer migration to mobile for local search and discovery means that content consumption is an increasingly important part of the core mobile experience.

Steven Jacobs is deputy editor at Street Fight.