Apple Maps Exposes A Larger Strategic Battle Taking Place

Now that Apple has apologized and the uproar over Mapplegate is starting to subside, it's time to step back and focus on why Apple had to do what it did. The fact is, Apple had to replace Google Maps for three reasons:

  1. iPhone map users are too valuable to leave to Google. According to ComScore, the iPhone users account for 45% of all mobile traffic on Google Maps, with the remaining 55% coming from Android. This means approximately 31 million iPhone users access Google Maps every month. iPhone users also use Google Maps more intensively than Android users. On average, iPhone users spend 75 minutes per month in Google Maps versus 56 minutes per month for Android users. And iPhone users access Google Maps more frequently than Android users, averaging 9.7 million visits daily versus 7.1 million visits for Android users. Given this data, Apple has a vital strategic interest in moving its iPhone users off Google Maps and onto an Apple mapping solution. Doing so not only deprives Google of its best users but also gives Apple the customer base they will need to drive adoption of new location-based services. 
  2. Maps are more than wayfinding; they are the foundation for all location-based services. As my colleague Ted Schadler recently pointed out, “Maps are where the physical context of our daily lives and reality intersects the digital intelligence we access online.” Maps are not just another app on your smartphone – they are the key integration point for all location-based services and content. Today, that includes features such as voice-guided directions, point-of-interest data from Yelp, and third-party transit directions, but soon it will include Find Your Friends and destination maps that open up entire new opportunities for location-specific services, content, and commerce. Without controlling Maps, Apple has no ability to control and orchestrate innovation in this space. Given its importance, Apple had to take control of it away from Google.
  3. A new strategically important class of apps has emerged . . . Platform apps. We’ve grown accustomed to thinking of operating systems as platforms, but a new trend is emerging where apps themselves are becoming platforms – or Platform apps. Platform apps provide a core framework (such as a map) that doubles as a gateway for accessing additional services and content. Unlike traditional apps, platform apps provide third-party developers, service providers, and content owners new platforms for accessing users and monetizing their offerings. iTunes, iBooks, and Newsstand are all content platform apps. Passbook is a wallet platform app (and someday the basis for a payment platform app). GameCenter is a social gaming platform app. This trend crosses all mobile platforms. Windows Phone 8’s Camera app is an imaging platform app (through the addition of Lenses), as is its Wallet app. This new class of apps is the latest front in the platform wars that are raging between Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. And, just as developers have to decide which mobile OS platforms to support, they will have to decide which platform apps to support. If Apple can force them to develop solutions for their mapping platform app first, that puts Google and others at a significant disadvantage and Apple in the driver's seat once again.

We can quibble about whether or not Apple released Maps prematurely, but that misses the point. To quote my college Ted Schadler once again: “Apple had to do maps. It had no choice.” Maps are just too important to leave off the table. In all likelihood, a year from now, we will all be asking ourselves why Apple didn’t pull the plug on Google Maps sooner. 

What do you think? Was Apple's entry into maps inevitable, or could they leave it to Google?

Comments

This was inevitable for two

This was inevitable for two reasons. First, and most obviously, maps provide context for advertising and search results. I haven't seen recent data, but a year or two ago Google estimated that at least one third of all search queries it processed from mobile phones related to location (restaurants, gas stations, etc.). This obviously represents a significant advertising opportunity when you can return results on a map with context- and location-sensitive ads embedded.

Secondly, use of the map app itself generates tremendously valuable data for Google. From the use of any location-enabled Google service, they can collect (anonymously, one hopes) user location information, map-based search queries, click-through data, etc. From the use of the navigation part of the app - depending on how frequently it's used - they could deduce where you live, where you work, where you stop for gas, where you buy groceries, where you go on holiday... Google already knows your search history. Combine that with your location history and they have a formidable ad targeting platform.

It's all here in their privacy policy: http://www.google.com/intl/en/policies/privacy/

Right now Apple makes their money primarily from hardware sales. However, they've already made some (admittedly clumsy) moves into the mobile advertising space. Location is a critical component of mobile advertising; by controlling the map platform, Apple can not only control the inventory but also the targeting.