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At the iPhone 5 launch event today, Apple Senior Vice President in charge of iOS Scott Forstall provided additional details about the company’s new Maps product for iOS 6.
Maps replaces Google Maps, which had been pre-installed on every iOS device since the first iPhone. The move has been seen as another sign of the all-out-warfare being waged between the two tech companies over which one will dominate mobile. Although it’s Apple kicking Google Maps off the phone (as well as Google’s YouTube app), Google has been using a better version of its maps on Android phones that offers enhanced views, turn-by-turn navigation, and other features it did not include in the iOS version of its app. Users will still be able to download Google Maps via the App Store.
The most dramatic addition to Maps on iOS devices is the Flyover feature. When Google’s Satellite view originally launched in 2005 it was a revelation. Users could see their own backyard pool, the neighbors’ illegal deck, or Area 51. Street View, while even more ambitious, has faced both privacy challenges for its intrusive nature as well as lawsuits and injunctions from multiple governments because of the way it collected additional data about neighborhoods while it was acquiring images.
The new Flyover feature’s main promise is that it will show users more than they’d get from a satellite and less than they’d get from Street View. It has direct parallels to the Google Earth product in that it partly serves as inspiration, but it’s integration directly in the Maps app argues that it intends to be functional on the ground as well. Users will be able to tap on a 3D button on the map display to be taken to the Flyover view.
Using the existing Google Maps product on iPhones to navigate in the car has always been a trick only slightly less dangerous than texting while driving. The new turn-by-turn directions seek to improve this experience, firstly by using voice to tell you when and where to turn and secondly by changing the display to a 3D-style rendering that follows the movement of your vehicle (or feet, for walkers).
Now with even more local
Google has Zagat, and now Frommer’s, so Apple has turned to Yelp to provide greater detail on restaurants, shops, hotels, and other points of interest.
The pop-up box that used to contain a phone number, address, and (sometimes) website now contains user-generated images, star ratings, and reviews. You can activate the turn-by-turn directions from the detail page as well.
As big a company as Apple is, they’ve got a formidable and knowledgable opponent in Google. Google Maps quickly made mincemeat of its predecessor Mapquest and has been at the forefront of mapping for the last half decade. It uses not only in-house staff to constantly upgrade its product but also relies on volunteers who have been engaged with the product for so long that they bring with them an almost Wikipedia-like enthusiasm for correcting mistakes and making updates to the maps.
For now, Apple is going it alone. They’ll need to ensure that details are updated at least as fast at Google to avoid users going back to a product they’ve become accustomed to over the last five years of iPhones. Apple will also have to be prepared for Google to roll out a new iOS maps product that isn’t hamstrung by Apple’s restrictions on its house apps. While that will likely mean integrated advertisements (as Google did with its new YouTube app), users will likely also get some of the features that Google has been keeping for Android users.