The Bing of Maps

Seven years ago, Apple decided that it’d had enough of using Google’s mapping data. They realized that maps and mapping services were so strategic that they couldn’t really afford to depend on a smartphone rival. So, they began building their own, and in September 2012, the company launched Apple Maps. And if I am being honest, the program has always been akin to that baby face that only a mother can love.

When it launched, Apple Maps was widely panned for being inaccurate and missing key information. Google launched its own dedicated Google Maps for iOS three months later and has never looked back. Apple, on the other hand, has spent billions on Apple Maps in an effort to build a more accurate and rich experience. Yet, in many dense locations, like San Francisco Bay Area or the Big Apple, it still performs like the kid who got into the private school because their grandfather’s name was on one of the buildings. On sheer merit, Google Maps was and still is better.

During the keynote at the recently concluded WWDC 2019, Apple executives made a big deal about the massive improvements in the Maps. This is a brand new Maps, Apple said. It is rebuilt and has more detailed information about everything from terrain to roads to landmarks. Apple said it drove four million miles to get better, richer data. The new Maps will also allow you to add favorite places and create a list of personal locations that can be shared with friends and family members. It will have a feature called “Look Around,” which is like Google’s Street View but with maybe slightly slicker and smoother visuals.

My reaction to Apple Maps was a shrug. So, they are finally catching up to Google — but will they ever be able to catch up with Google Maps? The WWDC hoopla around this tells me that Apple thinks of Apple Maps as an application, whereas in reality, maps are all about data — something Google understands better than anyone. Google maps are getting richer with data by the day. The more people use those maps to find locations, the deeper their data set gets. In my last visit to Old Delhi, I was able to find antique stores in back alleys with no difficulty at all. Apple Maps was nowhere close.

Why do I think Google Maps will continue to trump Apple despite the latter’s fancy new graphics and features? Because when it comes to maps, the key metrics are navigation, real-time redirection, and traffic information. Google’s Waze is a powerful weapon against all rivals. It has allowed Google to train its mapping algorithms to become highly effective and personal (not to mention how much intelligence that might have been shared with Waymo).

Google has faint regard for customer privacy, so they don’t hesitate to suck up all our data in order to build an amazing experience — so much so that many of us are willing to pay the price with regard to our personal information. Apple has a stance on privacy, which is why I am their customer, but at the end of the day, it’s an irrefutable fact that the Internet is a connected experience — and maps are part of that Internet.

“We do not believe that an alternative mapping solution exists that can provide the global functionality that we require to offer our platform in all of the markets in which we operate,” carsharing company, Uber wrote about Google Maps in its S-1 filing. Given the nature of their business, Uber thinks of Google Maps as a key part of their experience. Uber not only paid good money to Google, but it is also helping Google Maps become even smarter. The many trips being taken on Uber is only helping Google Maps become smarter and more aware.

So when I think of Apple Maps, no matter how improved they might be, all it does is remind me of Bing — an also-ran that can never catch up to Google, because more people use Google’s search. Sure, it has some great technology, and it helped provide Microsoft’s cloud with a big application to improve it’s Azure’s infrastructure. Sure it is woven into many Microsoft products. Sure it is good enough to be used all the time.

But 10 years in, globally, it still has less than one percent of usage share on mobile. On desktops where Microsoft is the dominant Operating System provider, it has a mere 8.24 percent of market share, behind Baidu with its 10 percent usage share, and not even close to Google, which has a 75.5 percent usage share.

For the month of May 2019, Google Maps was ranked at number eighth among all applications in the United States, and it was ranked fifth in Europe. The new Apple Maps may be nice to look at, and it might be quite improved, but it will always be — at best — a distant second. It is the Bing of maps.

PS: Jonny Evans has a wonderful recap of the Apple Maps and the new features in the new maps, and is worth reading.

  • This first appeared on my weekly newsletter dated June 9, 2019. If you like to get this delivered to your inbox, just sign-up here, and I will take care of the rest.

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