Our answer is: IT doesn't matter! Here is why:"Is Google worried that Apple’s defection will substantially reduce its user base, and, consequently, the advertising revenue it gains through maps? Does the search company fear that it could lose its place as the online mapping leader, a position that has long been one of its competitive advantages? Is it concerned that Apple might build a better, more useful maps app?"
1. The highly publicized mapping war is an arms race with no clear winner. Apple will succeed in locking away more its users from Google's reach through its own mapping standard. We do acknowledge that this will somewhat inhibit Google's revenue potential. But it's likely that you're only gonna be an Apple Maps user if you buy into the Apple product chain. For those who don't, Google Maps will remain the standard. Both companies will continue to improve their apps through marginal innovations with one copying the ideas of the other. In fact, as a preemptive response to Apple's anticipated announcement to launch its own map service, Google promised to deliver its own 3D flyover version by the end of 2012.
2. Don't forget about Microsoft and Facebook. Each company tries to lock in user traffic with its integrated services in order to monetize it in some way. Although far less popular, let's not forget that Microsoft also tries to play in the arena with Bing Maps (see Google vs. Bing comparison). Facebook will have the muscle to break away from Google Maps if it wants to, although this is unlikely to happen any time soon. However, leveraging spatial data with social network data could create an enormous advantage for Facebook over both Google and Apple. The point is, the mapping market is not a duopoly but an oligopoly, which diminishes the ability of any one player to dominate.
3. Mapping becomes commoditized. Although hotly contested, Nicholas Carr made a valid point in his best-selling book Does IT Matter? describing how IT generally loses its strategic importance as it becomes widely distributed and universally adopted. He draws on countless examples dating even back as far as the invention of the steam engine, the light bulb, or more recently ERP software and the internet. Mapping software is already becoming basic GIS infrastructure. Neither Google nor Apple nor Bing have much proprietary to really edge out a competitive advantage. Any temporary increases in market share will eventually erode in the competitive battle over mapping superiority. The battle over who will have the most up-to-date 3D airplane pictures, the most detailed views of the Grand Canyon inevitably drive up the cost content and reduce profit.
So what's the alternative? That we do not have an answer to. But in the end, as with all infrastructure technologies, 3rd party consumers and businesses are the winners. We all get to enjoy the neat benefits of being able to preview the Grand Canyon in 3D flyover motion before having to set a foot on a trail. Well, at least this kind of benefit we shall leave up to debate...
Side-by-side comparisons of Google Maps and Apple Maps:
- Gizmodo.com offers a side-by-side comparison of the basic mapping features of Google Maps and Apple Maps concluding that Apple's version at its current state lacks the granularity of Google's.
- Mashable.com highlights the differences in both but in the end focuses mainly on Apple's distinctive features including turn-by-turn navigation, Siri integration, traffic, local search, and 3D flyover.
- Businessinsider.com argues Apple's inferiority to Google Maps on a higher level based on the pre-beta version.
- PCWorld.com stresses the gains and losses in mapping functionality on the new IPhone generation.
- Iphonehacks.com offers a neat expansion of Gizmodo's side-by-side comparison.