iOS6: Can Google Beat Apple in its Own Backyard?

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The past couple weeks have seen their fair share of iPhone5 coverage, including here on Street Fight. This has ranged from lots of excitement, to a collective “eh” from generalist tech media expecting revolutionary hardware with every update cycle.

But those who’ve actually picked up the device quickly see and feel a thinner body, lighter weight, faster processor, larger screen and better battery. Usually working against each other, these factors in combination represent industrial design at its best.

But more than the gadgetry, the real impact will come from iOS6 — announced in June and launched last week. Among other things, it includes deeper Facebook integration for app developers to build in Open Graph actions and authentication.

Its biggest implications lie in Apple’s new Maps app however (Passbook will also be big. but that’s a whole different column). This replaces Google’s longstanding default positioning in that role, and includes turn-by-turn navigation and flyover imagery.

Though this will carry Apple’s characteristic polish (no pun intended), mapping is a game ultimately won on function rather than form. In other words, will it find what I’m looking for, regardless of pretty flyover images of the Golden Gate Bridge?

This requires lots of listings data and search algorithms; in other words, things that are non-core to Apple (bad pun intended). Relative to Google’s tenure in this area, Apple is only starting to stitch together local vertical content partners like Yelp and TomTom.

And it’s already starting to show, as the last five days have been peppered with negative user reviews. iOS developers I’ve talked to also confirm disappointing results seen from months of beta testing (emphasis on beta, to be fair).

This is tantamount to feature regression — rare for a company like Apple that not only has superlative quality standards, but margins that are primarily based on hardware sales. Users on the fence about the iPhone5 could be swayed by all this backlash.

Stepping back, this is all said in full appreciation for Apple’s reasoning behind the mapping switcheroo. Apple has always had tight control of its ecosystem and Google was simply gaining too much leverage within its own backyard (read: walled garden).

More importantly, Apple Maps’ true potential goes beyond disappointing a few (okay, many) Google Maps users. The front-end and behavioral data gained through Maps could vault Passbook, iAd, and the sleeping giant that is an iTunes-centric offline payments platform.

But where does this leave Google and its 60 percent share of U.S. mobile ad revenues, and 96 percent share of query volume? It owes this in large part to default search positioning in iOS’s Safari browser, begging the question of whether Apple will yank this position too.

The loss of the default mapping app in iOS (undermonetized) isn’t as bad as this potential ejection from default search position in Safari (very much monetized). But looking forward, mapping is an area where Google is placing lots of chips: Local.

40 percent of mobile searches have local intent according to Google, and that number is even higher within a dedicated mapping app. And its monetization of in-app map searches in Android has long made me think the same was coming to iOS.

That still could happen though. I’m betting Google launches a third party mapping app, just like it recently did with its YouTube app (unless Apple blocks it). Though this wouldn’t enjoy the “on deck” positioning Google just lost, it could end up being a much better app.

Think about it: this prospective app wouldn’t be tied — as it previously was — to iOS firmware, and thus held back by Apple-dictated update cycles. Moreover, if Apple Maps really does turn out to be a dog, Google could swoop in and steal lots of market share.

There would have to be a pretty large variance in quality, as default “on deck” positioning has huge advantages over third party apps. But Google has the unprecedented opportunity to beat Apple in its own backyard. Front row seats go for $199 plus 2-year contract.

Mike Boland is senior analyst at BIA/Kelsey, where he heads up the firm’s mobile local coverage. Previously, he was a tech journalist for Forbes, Red Herring, Business 2.0 and others.

Mike Boland has been a tech & media analyst for the past two decades, specifically covering mobile, local, and emerging technologies. He has written for Street Fight since 2011. More can be seen at