Apple debuted its original iPhone Maps app as a touch driven interface for exploring Google's extensive and free online maps in 2007, but as Google launched Android as a competitive threat, Apple has rethought its dependance upon a Google partnership for maps.
Apple initially adopted new features of Google maps, including traffic reports, transit directions and Street View, but as Google subsequently rolled out a variety of extensions, Apple began ignoring them.
Apple's iOS doesn't support Google's Maps Navigation, nor does it incorporate support for Googles' Loopt-like Latitude or its Yelp-like Places features that are integrated into Android's version of Google Maps.
Instead, Apple began working on its own maps server for iOS 6, a significant undertaking given the years Google has invested in improving its market leading map services. Google has also faced competitive challenges from others, including Microsoft's Bing, but Microsoft now has virtually zero presence in mobile devices.
Apple, on the other hand, accounts for more than half of all mobile devices, including the majority of tablets with iPad, a virtual lock on iPod-like music players, and a commanding presence in smartphones.
Apple takes over maps
As the curator of the iOS platform, the introduction of Apple's own new Maps app in iOS 6 will instantly replace Google on every new mobile device running iOS and for every user who upgrades.
In addition, third party apps that tap into iOS' maps APIs to create their own custom maps, plot directions or pinpoint a location will now automatically get their maps data from Apple rather than Google, thanks to the way Apple is implementing a compatible API layer in iOS 6 that accesses its own in-house mapping services. Existing apps will "just work" with Apple's maps.
Apple has already replaced some of the rudimentary GPS location mapping in iPhoto with its own in-house maps, but evidence suggests the company will soon move all of its dependence upon Google Maps in-house soon, including making its own Maps client available for OS X users.
Apple's strategic move to its own in-house Maps isn't entirely unprecedented. The company initially established Safari's WebKit as the primary mobile web browser by making it the default and only option on the iPhone, leveraging its quality and usability to attract customers who rapidly abandoned the primitive browser experiences offered by RIM, Palm, Microsoft and Nokia's Symbian.
More recently, while Google had spent years developing and deploying cross-platform support for its mobile Voice Services technologies, Apple rapidly customized its Siri acquisition and instantly captured the leading role in delivering usable, desirable voice assistance services with last fall's iPhone 4S launch.
By erasing its dependance upon Google to power iOS 6 Maps, Apple will also starve Google of massive amounts of maps-based traffic that the search giant uses to compile its own traffic and transit data. Apple will now keep all that data itself, giving it the upper hand in being able to see what features people are using and in subsequently developing future Maps features that best target those needs.
Apple partners more closely with Yelp
At the same time, Apple's new iOS 6 Maps is partnering with some of Google's maps-related competitors, including Yelp, the review service that today's Siri already relies upon for local information.
In iOS 6 Maps, users will be able to access Yelp for reviews, user submitted photos (or submit their own pictures), write "tips" and check in at local businesses. Siri will expand its feature set to provide more extensive support for looking up locations and providing directions.
Google attempted to use the popularity of its Maps services to essentially replace Yelp with its own Places, a feature of Google Maps that actually offers the potential for all-important revenue.
By giving Yelp a large new audience with Siri last year, and expanding that partnership to provide local reviews and check-ins in iOS 6 Maps, Apple is not just forging a competitive partnership to bolster its own offerings, but also lending critical support to Google's competitors, a clear shot that targets the very revenue centers of Google's mapping plans.
Apple gets social without Google
Apple's partnership with Yelp also highlights Google's own Android platform as being less attractive to the search giant's rivals, because Google operates Android as a means to further its own search and advertising interests, rather than as largely neutral platform open to third parties.
Apple has similarly forged new partnerships with Twitter in iOS and OS X, and plans to release similar OS-level sharing and integration features for Facebook this fall. That's a parallel challenge to Google's attempts to displace Twitter with its own Buzz, and subsequently clone Facebook with its own Google+ social network. Apple has not indicated any interest in adding similar OS level support for Buzz or Google+.
The shift to partnering with Google's rivals got started with Apple's increasing array of options in Safari for general web search. The disconnecting of Apple's exclusive search deal with Google first opened up opportunities for Bing and Yelp, and most recently for regional social and search services including an array of Chinese web services.
Apple drops exclusivity with Google for directions, opens door for third party apps
In the area of directions, while Apple is providing its own turn-by-turn navigation features in iOS 6 Maps (shown below), it is similarly delegating away the task of providing transit, biking and hiking directions to third party app developers.
In June, Apple's iOS software chief Scott Forstall told developers at WWDC, "When building Maps, we looked around and realized the best transit apps for metros, for hiking, for biking, are coming from our developers. And so instead of trying to develop those ourselves, we are going to integrate and feature and promote your apps for transit right within the Maps app in iOS 6."
Third parties (including Google) will be able to register their own routing apps with the system in a way that makes their features available, and users looking for specialized routing instructions will be able to get recommendations from the App Store. This is a signifiant shift from Apple's existing Maps app, which defaults to Google to provide integrated transit and walking directions.
Forstall noted to developers in the audience, "registering as a routing app gives you more opportunities to get your app in front of users. Routing apps are not limited to just driving or walking directions. Routing apps can also include apps that provide directions for the user's favorite bicycle or hiking trail, for air routes, and for subway or other public transportation lines."
Apple's new Maps in iOS 6 aren't just a new strategic competitive direction however. The new app also introduces four important new mapping technologies that promise to revolutionize how users access mobile maps, as the subsequent report on iOS 6 Maps will detail.