Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 25th Sep 2012 23:51 UTC, submitted by someone
Apple "It seems like people really hate the new Maps in iOS 6. Now, I'm not disputing that Maps does give a lot of strange results to a lot of people all around the world, but for a large, large number of people, iOS 6 Maps has been a huge improvement over Google Maps. I'm talking about those of us who live in China (you know, the place with 1.3+ billion people and the second-largest economy in the world)." Fascinating.
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Two mapping strategies
by Tony Swash on Wed 26th Sep 2012 10:21 UTC
Tony Swash
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What this report about China touches on is a fundamental difference between the mapping strategy of Google and Apple.

Google's core business is collecting data about user behaviour and then using that data to sell targeted advertising. That core business represents 90%+ of Google's revenue and everything Google does, all the cool stuff is gives away, who it partners with, works with, competes with or is threatened by, relates to that core function. Anybody who collects lots of data about user activity on the net and who does not share that data with Google is a competitive threat to Google because not having comprehensive data about end user activity undermines the value of Google's core product (targeted advertising) and undermines Google's USP (we collect and organise most of the world's user activity data).

Obviously the big global scale collectors of data who won't let Google's data mining bots have access (the prime example is Facebook) are perceived correctly by Google to be competitive threats (hence is huge investment in pumping up Google+) but crucially, in regards to mapping, regional collectors and generators of localised user data are also competitors of Google. So Google's ability to partner with local collectors and providers of regional data in relation to it's mapping service is constrained by it's strategic business function. Why would, as an example, Baidu the Chinese search engine allow it's data to be used in relation to Google maps in China. It's not going to happen because Baidu and Google are competitors. As well as the data collectors collecting data from regional sources there are also specialist sectoral sources of data (Yelp is an example) who collect data about a particular topic and which are also a threat to Google's core business and who are thus also unlikely to enter into any agreements to share user data for use in Google's maps.

So Google has to, by and large, use it's own enormous and impressive data gathering operation to supply data for it's maps. That works very well on the whole but it is weakest precisely in those areas where entities other than Google own the best data.

Apple's approach to mapping is different and that difference relates to it's different core business model compared to Google. Apple's core business is not data collecting or advertising, it's core business is selling devices and everything else Apple does is about adding end user vale to those devices. Everything. iTunes, the App store, iCloud, Apple retail, Apple TV, etc etc, it's all about adding to the value stack that comes with Apple hardware.

This means that Apple's core business is not threatened by companies who are collecting specialist end user data, and this means Apple is much, much freer than Google to enter into partnership with holders of localised and specialist data holders and collectors. In fact Apple positively wants to enable those holders and collectors of data to work through it's devices because it will all add value to Apple devices and because Apple itself lags far behind Google in it's ability to collect data directly itself.

So Apple's mapping strategy is different to Google's, Apple maps are a mapping platform, much like the App store and iOS SDK is a platform, and Apple wants lots of data gatherers and holders to come aboard it's mapping platform, it wants third parties to develop apps and uses for it's maps and it wants local data holders to exploit it's maps and in the process make them better. Of course Google also offers ways for others to use it's map but that use is much more constrained than the way Apple can offer it's maps because Google cannot allow others to use it's maps to collect data about users if that data is not shared with Google. So Apple can partner with Yandex the Russian search engine to supply local data for Apple's maps in Russia and let Yandex collect local data because neither Apple nor Yandex are threatened by that data sharing. In contrast Yandex would be very threatened if it had to share it's data with Google.

So what you have is a fascinating experiment with two mapping strategies. Google's is far more monolithic, 'all your data is ours or we cannot work together' (which means local or specialist search engines cannot easily work with Google maps) and Apple's model where it facilitates and thus depends on others to populate it's maps with useful and accurate data in the hope that because it does not compete with local or specialist search engines that the local data owners will sign up because they are not in competition with Apple's core business.

The best way to view Apple's mapping initiative is as a project a bit like the Apple store. Apple builds the structure, in this case the core mapping functionality, but other make almost all the content. So Apple maps will succeed or fail as a result of it's ability attract third parties to supply uniquely useful specialist data as well as to build lots of great add-on mapping apps.

If Apple maps is an enabling platform like the App Store then Apple maps currently are like the App Store was in week one. Back then no one knew whether the App Store would work or how big it would get. In week one it's content looked a bit thin. Similarly we don't know now whether Apple's new approach to mapping will succeed and whether in the medium term it can go places that Google maps cannot.

What' so exciting and interesting is that a couple of weeks ago there was just one strategy for mapping on the mobile net. Now there are two.

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