For Google Maps, winter is coming. Potentially.
As you’ve undoubtedly seen by now, with the upcoming iOS 6 software, Apple intends to replace the Google Maps aspect of their default Maps application with their own, in-house version. Mark Gurman of 9to5 Mac was the first to report this news, and dives into more of the detail behind it, including the 3D aspect. John Paczkowski of AllThingsD confirmed the change. And after talking to my own source, I can beat the dead horse in confirming the switch.
I’ve also heard a little bit more. First of all, iOS 6, which is expected to be shown off in developer preview form at WWDC in June, is internally codenamed “Sundance”. Second, while Paczkowski’s source said the new maps functionality will “blow your head off”, I’ve been told that’s a bit of hyperbole (you think?). Specifically, while the 3D functionality is cool, it’s also not something people are going to use regularly. Think of it like Google Street View — cool, but how often do you actually use it when compared to the regular Google Maps product? (Having said that, I still expect Apple’s 3D maps to be cooler than Google Street View.)
More interesting to me is the implication of this switch. Let’s assume that alongside this change, Apple will also be replacing the default hooks in the iOS SDK that currently use Google Maps. This is a big deal for third party developers. While some choose to use other maps APIs (like Bing Maps, for example), the vast majority go with Google Maps because it’s baked right in and easy to hook up.
If that changes…
Consider Foursquare. They recently made headlines when they switched away from Google Maps on their website. At the same time, they made a point of saying they weren’t switching away from Google Maps on their mobile applications (where maps are obviously the most important). Why not? Again, because Google Maps are standard in both the iOS and Android SDKs. More importantly, unlike with the web, developers aren’t charged to use these maps on mobile. At least not yet.
Google recently made the change to start charging high volume customers of the Google Maps API on the web. Hence, the Foursquare switch, and several others larger customers are now either switching or considering switching. My guess would be that because of iOS, Apple may be the largest user of the Google Maps API right now. It’s not clear if Google charges Apple for this or not. Or if they’re about to start, as they have with other third-parties.
But it doesn’t matter. Apple can afford any charge Google throws their way, and would undoubtedly pay it if they thought it was worth it to ensure iOS remains the best mobile platform out there. This move away from Google Maps is more about controlling essential technology, as John Gruber points out today.
But the side effect of such a switch could seriously harm Google Maps as the de-facto mapping service. Again, because of their very nature, maps are most vital for mobile usage. And if Apple not only pulls iOS out, but takes millions of developers with them, Google Maps could suddenly go from behemoth to vulnerable. (Which makes their decision to start charging large customers all the more dumbfounding — this cannot be a huge source of revenue for Google, no matter the scale.)
Of course, Apple will have to ensure that their mapping product is flawless, or developers will choose to go with Google Maps anyway (assuming that’s still an option — even if it’s slightly more complicated). But given what’s now leaking out about the product, it would seem that after years of work, Apple is finally ready to take on the mapping challenge. And this may be even more problematic for Google than it seems on the surface.
As a quick aside, while there’s not much other iOS 6 information floating around out there right now, there have been whispers backing up Gruber’s assertion that Siri APIs are another possibility. There have also been whispers about Siri for iPad finally coming. Specifically, I’ve been led to believe it’s more of a UI issue than anything else. After all, Apple is using the technology for the Dictation functionality found on the new iPad. They’ve just been working on what Siri for iPad will look like, I’ve been led to believe.
As we’ve seen the past few days, new iCloud functionality should be a key part of iOS 6 as well. And more deep ties into the forthcoming OS X Mountain Lion should be revealed.
There is also some chatter about iTunes 11. It has been a not-so-well-kept secret that Apple has been trying to completely re-write the software for a long time. There have been several false starts and scrapping of projects. It’s believed (but far from confirmed) that Apple may be zeroing in on the major revamp they’re after. And a part of that may be both Apple and the labels warming to a full-on Spotify competitor…
Pure speculation at this point, but fun speculation.