Apple bares teeth in struggle for mobile dominance
Apple is looking to take a bite out of Google’s role in mobile with a newly revamped maps service that could attract lucrative iOS users away from the search giant’s offerings.
In a series of announcements to come out of Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco that kicked off yesterday, Apple repeatedly made it clear that it wants to take Google down a notch or two. A completely revamped maps will be part of the new iOS 6 update, which will ship this fall and will also include an integration with Facebook.
“One of the things I was amazed by was how long they spent on all the new features,” said Carl Howe, vice president of consumer research at Yankee Group, Boston. “It is not Apple’s traditional thing – they don’t tend to run feature wars.
“This hits Google where it hurts on the revenue side because there are 400 million users who now don’t have to go to Google’s mobile maps now and Google makes more money off iOS users than it does Android users.”
The annual conference for developers focuses on software and hardware news that is relevant to developers, an important part of the iOS ecosystem. During the event, Apple reported that it had sold 365 million iOS devices through the end of March 2012.
Strike one at Google was when Apple made a point during the keynote address of highlighting the fact that Android’s latest software update, Ice Cream Sandwich, is only running on seven percent of devices while the number of devices running Apple’s latest iOS is at 80 percent.
“Ice Cream Sandwich was introduced at the same time as iOS 5 last year,” Mr. Howe said. “Apple made a pretty good argument that they are engaging their users with their software more effectively.”
Local search is one feature of Apple Maps.
The next strike came when Apple announced its revamped maps service, which it developed itself and which will feature local search built into maps and include 100 million business listings. Apple maps will be integrated with Yelp and will feature 3D views as well as real-time traffic information.
What makes the news so significant is that if iOS users no longer have to access Google maps, the search giant potentially loses one of its more significant avenues for revenue.
Google held its own event last week to showcase its new interface for maps, which was likely a preemptive strike.
“Wave two of the thermonuclear war was the maps,” Mr. Howe said.
“I don’t think we think much about how often we use maps on smartphones,” he said. “Almost any location based apps, restaurants, contacts, address books, all of those things use maps.
“What Apple was showing yesterday was clearly on par with what Google was showing and appearing to be working better.”
The maps news is also significant in that it is likely to set off another round of intellectual property infringement law suits. Turn by turn directions, which were included in Apple’s announcement, have a lot of IP claims around them, per Mr. Howe.
“I expect that Garmin and TomTom have called their lawyers to see if this is on the up and up,” Mr. Howe said.
The Facebook integration will enable users to sign into Facebook and access the social network across iOS devices. The news is significant in that Facebook has a very large user base that is increasingly accessing the social network via their mobile devices.
Other news to come out of the event included a significant update for Siri, the voice-activated assistant, including partnerships with OpenTable, Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes as well as the ability to launch apps using Siri.
Apple also introduced smart app banners that will automatically let users know when an app is available for a site they are visiting.
Additionally, the Passbook app is a new centralized hub for movie tickets, airline tickets, gift cards and coupons. It is location based, so when a user goes to a movie theater, pre-purchased tickets automatically pop up on the screen.
Apple also had some other news, including significant updates for the the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro line and new features for the upcoming OS X Mountain Lion desktop OS.
IOS 6 will support the iPhone 3GS and latter phones as well as the second and third generations of iPads.
“They went through and thought about how people are using the phone,” Mr. Howe said. “Some of these features are actually pretty important in terms of actually making the phone a part of your life.”