September 21, 2012
I was pretty sure that the v1 (beta?) Apple Maps would have gaps and gaffs, and of course it does. Mapping is hard to do as this excellent analysis from Adrian Covert at Gizmodo makes clear. (If Apple had it to do over again, it might have pushed harder to keep the Google Map app in place while Apple launched a beta map alongside it. Maybe it still can.)
But Apple had to do maps. It had no choice, really. The reason is simple: maps are the place where mobile matters most. Here's the logic:
- First, maps are where the physical context of our daily lives and reality intersects the digital intelligence we access online. It is precisely because maps are where the physical best intersects the digital that Apple had to offer maps. Maps are extremely valuable to customers, hence to Apple. It couldn't outsource it to Google forever if it wanted to develop a unique mobile engagment experience to customers. For that matter, Microsoft has to do (and is doing) exactly the same. It's also why Nokia purchased NAVTEQ in 2008 for $8.1 billion.
- Second, developers are finding fabulous ways to exploit maps in their applications. Overlaying just about anything on a map makes the map more valuable. Shoppers benefit. Cyclists benefit. City planners benefit. Even the military benefits. Anybody dealing with physical locations needs maps in their app. And that means great APIs to access the map, a way to put layers over the map to show important things, and a way to crowdsource new information. Flickr's photos on maps in a great way to explore a vacation spot before getting on an airplane. All because of great map apps.
- Lastly, maps start with roads and locations and transit, but they quickly fractal inside building to wings and rooms and aisles. Pointing someone to a Wal-Mart store is one thing. Walking them down the aisle to the product of their choice is a whole better thing. But both rely on the same mapping APIs.
So Apple has a lot of hard work to do to get this beta product to v1 and beyond. And Apple customers will suffer some in the meantime. But for Apple to focus on making its ecosystem of developers and apps uniquely valuable, it had to own maps. Just as it will ultimately have to own identity (AppleID), voice control (Siri), wallets (Passbook), and probably a whole bunch of other core engagement services. Which services do you think Apple must own?