Over the weekend, unofficial news that Apple will use its own in-house mapping for iOS 6 has broken. Inevitably, a lot of pro-Apple websites were hailing the 3D element as revolutionary. When we get over the immediacy of this breaking news, it is hard to see how Apple has developed a solution that can compete with Google and Nokia/Microsoft, covering the many facets that make up a complete, worldwide mapping service. Information is still very limited. Is this a full-blown mapping solution or 3D city imagery? Is it US focused or worldwide? Can it support search and navigation? Is this even true?
Certainly, the acquisition of C3 technologies was a very good one, and will bring the wow factor that Apple is so good at producing. Siri is a great example of this. Google has a much stronger position on both search and voice recognition technologies, yet Apple stole the headlines with what has turned out to be an often frustrating experience for users. But ultimately, it is unlilkely coverage extends far beyond major cities, given the time and costs involved.
And won’t someone please think of the developers. It would seem Apple is unlikely to drop Google maps in such a short space of time (assuming iOS 6 launches in September), given the number of applications that use it. The most likely scenario is a separate 3D imagery service, available to developers as a separate API alongside Google Maps. This will no doubt enable unique features and it will be interesting to see what they have done on indoor imagery.
Although it seems unlikely, how could Apple fully replace Google Maps in time for iOS 6? This of course is pure speculation based on a severe lack of facts, but the most likely answer is TomTom/TeleAtlas (or possibly OSM). Although it has been quiet on the consumer front of late, especially on indoor mapping, TomTom sits on one of the best worldwide mapping databases. In 2012, Samsung has partnered with TomTom/TeleAtlas on mapping for Bada devices, illustrating its capabilities as a Google alternative. It is very unlikely that Apple is going to go out and spend the time and money creating the necessary base maps and geolocation databases. Instead, innovating on top of (or even acquiring)TomTom’s solution is a far better proposition, especially given Apple’s ability to negotiate very favorable licensing terms. From TomTom’s point of view, this would be a major step on the road to recovery.