Is Apple’s Encroachment on Local Finally Ready for Prime Time?

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In this regular Street Fight feature, local marketing gurus David Mihm and Mike Blumenthal kick around some of the biggest ideas affecting the local search ecosystem and the broader industry. Send an email or leave a comment if you have specific topics that you’d like them to touch on in future columns!

David: Hey Mike, glad to be doing another one of these with you. As one of the biggest Apple fanboys I know, what are your thoughts on their latest announcements of the iPhone 7, iOS 10, and assorted accessories? From where I sit there seem to be some major breakthroughs for Apple’s local search position hidden just below the surface of these announcements.

Mike: Not actually a fanboy but an investor… and I need to make sure that they are handling my money properly. And you, while not a fanboy, don’t trust some companies with your personal data.

Apple has slowly and inexorably been encroaching on local.  The path from grabbing a few searches off the top to having now rolled out the ideal local platform in iMessage has been happening below the radar, but it’s finally ready for prime time.

I was blown away by how natural a fit iMessage is for local transactions with your actual “social network” (i.e. real friends and family) that you are most likely to have interactions with. OpenTable for iMessage is quite brilliant at selecting, sharing, and voting on a group of restaurants prior to booking.

One problem, though, is that there is no easy access for the SMB to interface elegantly. Perhaps there is an opportunity for someone to help with an iMessage app there.

David: Well, in full disclosure, I own a couple dozen shares of Apple, too. But aside from the tiny financial stake, I’m excited to see real innovation happening in local from a company other than Google.

While you’re right that there’s no SMB interface, I’m not sure Apple needs it. Their developer ecosystem is far more avid than Google’s, and provided they maintain an “open enough” API, I see a lot of startups eager to ride their coattails. So Apple may get access to a lot more SMB’s (and transaction data) than Google can ever reach directly at a deep level with Google My Business.

I don’t necessarily see the same enthusiasm about working with Google/Android, and the toxicity of the relationship with one of Apple’s biggest partners to date (Yelp) is only accelerating.

Mike: And those third parties will have access to an audience of a billion users with local shopping needs by the beginning of 2017 (that’s roughly how long it took for iOS9 to hit 85% penetration). And these are users that typically spend money.

I agree with you on the SMB interface. Imagine Groupon with an iMessage app that allows users to easily share deals with each other as they are chatting and planning their day. It will be incredibly viral and focused on those people that an individual has the most influence over.  But then SMBs will ALWAYS need a middleman in that scenario.

Yelp could have taken on that role but I can’t help but wonder why or why Yelp did such a lame job on their iMessage app? You would think with their close Apple relationship that they could be a leader in that area right out of the box and have an early advantage.

David: But Yelp’s exactly the wrong middleman for the SMB — it’s consistently rated worst of any major tech company by its own customers. For all of their efforts to move away from being a $600 CPM display ad company and towards a booking engine that actually provides value for SMBs, the company hasn’t seemed to make much progress on the brand perception front.

On the revenue front, you’re exactly right that this was a major missed opportunity for them to both showcase their technology to a much wider audience and make a splash in the Wall Street headlines.

I don’t even think iMessage was the most exciting update from Apple, though. While clunky right now (kind of like the first iPod), I see the AirPod form factor being a huge building block for a future where ambient voice search is the dominant paradigm.

Mike: In many ways I see the messaging platform as the third leg of mobile (joining the web and apps) that we need in place for the transition to non-traditional interfaces like voice. Apple is building out a stable of “body” computers with the Watch and now the AirPods that can provide an interface to the web.  I know you don’t like the Watch, but different strokes for different folks will open up ambient computing to larger number of users. I have trouble envisioning myself walking around with AirPods. At least the Watch is innocuous.

David: Yeah, I wouldn’t call the Watch “ambient” — it’s incredibly disruptive to the wearer’s experience to be looking down all the time; it’s just a smaller, less-useful screen than a phone. Not to mention interrupting the flow of in-person conversations.

Meanwhile, Siri-enabled AirPods can not only give unobtrusive “Knowledge Card”-type search results, but for in-car and pedestrian navigation, this is a quantum leap forward that will probably prevent countless accidents from distracted driving and walking.

Mike: My experience with “wearing” Apple Maps and getting directions on my wrist has been really great for distraction-free navigation. Truly an eye-opening experience. It’s like having the web envelop you. But I see your point about how AirPods could be that much better. This week we fully agree!

How many development cycles before you can order a growler for pick up with a tap, a nod and quick verbal question?

David: Well, much as I’d like to order a growler of my favorite IPA via my Siri-enabled AirPods, delivered to my couch during the Ryder Cup, I’m not sure there are any Portland growler-fill stations yet taking advantage of the iOS SDKs (although there are some forward-thinking ones)!  Seems like a good topic for next time: how can local businesses take advantage of these new messaging/card-driven transactional platforms? Stay tuned.

Got an idea for what you want Mike and David to discuss next time? Send it to either [email protected] or [email protected], or just leave a comment below and we’ll put it in the hopper!

After more than a decade in local search, David Mihm now serves as VP of Product Strategy at ThriveHive, leading the direction of the company’s search-related product offerings. He’s also the Founder & CEO of Tidings, an email newsletter platform for small businesses that leverages their everyday social media activity, and his own weekly newsletters, Minutive and the Agency Insider. He’s the former founder of, Director of Local Strategy at Moz, and along with Mike Blumenthal, he’s a co-founder of Local University. Mike Blumenthal is the co-founder and analyst at Near Media where he researches and reports on reputation, reviews and local search. Mike has been involved in local search and local marketing strategy for almost 20 years. He explores the online to offline local ecosystem and helps businesses understand it and benefit from it through writing, speaking and education.