Consumers are up in arms about the "map fail" of the new iOS maps app, collectively blogging screenshots of maps that fall short (http://theamazingios6maps.tumblr.com/). Why is this such a big deal?
Maps are strategic IP because they capture consumers' intent of where they want to go, which creates the opportunity to intervene and shape consumers' paths. Apple doesn't want Google to have that data on its users and doesn't want to give Google the opportunity to serve location-based guidance. The problem is that maps are difficult to build -- Nokia and Google (the two main map providers) have been building their map IP for years. Nokia maps, for example, are on nine of 10 in-car GPS systems, each of which acts as a probe that continuously improves Nokia's maps. Apple can't catch up overnight, and it seems as if Apple was premature in pulling the plug on Google Maps -- it has produced a consumer backlash, at least among early adopters.
Consumers who claim they won't download iOS 6 are overreacting -- Google is planning to release its maps application in the App Store, and consumers can just download that app if they prefer. But if it turns out to be the case that consumers don't update their OS, Apple has a serious problem. Apple takes pride in avoiding the fragmentation that Android (and Windows) have, where consumers run different versions of the OS, which creates security gaps and problems for ISVs (app developers) creating software for those platforms. I think Mapplegate will pass, but it shows a crack in Apple's seamless veneer. When other companies launch half-baked software, they get away with calling them "beta," but consumers and journalists seem to expect perfection from Apple. But like any company attempting to innovate in this highly competitive consumer tech market, Apple is not infallible -- there's a map for that.
Apple's new iPhone 5 is a case study in incremental improvement. Nearly every aspect of the product -- the CPU, display, cameras, radio modem, size, weight, etc. -- are all improved over the iPhone 4S and at the same $199 price point. No doubt, the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 will sell millions of units, preserve Apple's momentum, and hold off the competition, but significant threats are mounting that Apple cannot afford to ignore:
Nokia is delivering Apple-quality innovation. As Nokia demonstrated last week at its Lumia 920 event, Nokia's innovation engine is firing on all cylinders. When the Lumia 920 launches (rumored for November 2), it will outclass the iPhone 5 in key areas such as imaging (PureView imaging, Cinemagraph) and location (Maps, City Lens, Transit) as well as bring wireless charging and NFC into the mainstream. While the breadth of accessories will be nowhere near what the iPhone offers, Nokia gets strong marks for showing Apple how NFC can enhance the accessory experience.
To the surprise of no one, Apple today announced its new iPhone 5. Given that the iPhone 5 is unlikely to solve the European debt crisis or bring peace to the Middle East, it won’t be surprising if we hear a resounding "meh" from Apple's critics, with them dinging the company for a paucity of innovation. Indeed, competitors like HTC and Nokia have already offered some of the features that Apple highlighted today, such as those for imaging. But Apple still outpaces the competition when it comes to the entire package — the new iPhone unites significant improvements in industrial design, imaging, audio, and connectivity, along with the wealth of new capabilities that iOS6 enables. Apple will sell a boatload of iPhones — especially now that both Verizon Wireless and Sprint will have an iPhone (the 8 GB iPhone 4) for consumers' favorite price: free.
But make no mistake, this is not about the iPhone 5 versus the Samsung Galaxy S III or the iPad versus the Kindle Fire HD; this is about customers' attachment to the larger ecosystems that those devices inhabit. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft all aim to translate customers' investments — of money, information, personalization, and social connections — into a gravitational field of loyalty so powerful that few customers will ever attain escape velocity. This market is still taking shape, but the iPhone 5 will markedly increase Apple's pull, already the strongest out there.
At its event in Los Angeles today, Amazon announced five new Kindle models: an ultracheap E Ink Kindle; a new "paperwhite" Kindle with a touchscreen and LED light to compete with Barnes & Noble's Nook with Glowlight; an update of its 7-inch Kindle Fire with improved hardware and software; and two "HD" models, with 7-inch and 8.9-inch screen options. Amazon also announced that it would offer its own basic data plan (through AT&T) for its 4G Fire--a very disruptive move that puts pressure on OEMs and carriers to offer their own lower-price plans, and sets the stage for an expected Amazon smartphone launch next year.
With these products, Amazon is:
Upgrading its devices to match its service. Last year, Bezos emphasized the service over the device, and that was key to Amazon's success--consumers buy tablets for what they can do with them, which helps explain why Amazon is the No. 2 tablet brand in the US. This year, with features like Dolby Digital Plus sound and what it calls a "Retina-class display," Amazon is bringing up the quality of the hardware to match the service, which is good for customer satisfaction and good for perception of Amazon's brand. Adding features like a front-facing camera, gyroscopes, and location APIs make Amazon's devices more appealing to developers, too.