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Apple Maps? Location Matters.

Mark Alonzo

An interesting phenomenon just happened. A few weeks after Apple launched iPhone 5 to great fanfare (and much hyperbole) and opened iO6 to its users something stood out. Not everything was better. In fact one thing in particular was worse. Maps. This was seen by many to signal a change in approach. In recent years Apple built a solid reputation by ensuring a great user experience; when Apple sidelined Google Maps in favour of its own solution (built on TomTom’s map data and other POI providers) consumers quickly expressed their view that here usability had not been the priority.

That this has caused such interest and even led to a written apology from Apple CEO Tim Cook demonstrates something that is both encouraging and challenging: people really get the value of location and demand quality of service attached to this, and they don’t mind where it comes from. That users understand the importance of high quality map services on their devices is great news for the geospatial community. What is especially interesting is that users were not upset that Apple ditched Google Maps but that its replacement was not seen to be an improvement.

So what? Well the geospatial market could be right behind and the winners will be the providers that deliver better solutions. Taking the view that the geospatial market follows (at least in part) the commercial market, and that GIS & imagery move increasingly towards services, users will become more transient and less wedded to existing companies and providers. This is a world outlined by Patrick Collins previously on ImagerySpeaks where aggregators build apps to deploy discrete functionalities served by third party providers tailored to answer industry specific problems. A highly flexible and scalable model.

These phenomena are distinct but combine to highlight a new trend. Dependency and provenance are not given. Just as Apple wanted to push users to their map service and then needed to track back so too will geospatial providers increasingly be challenged by emerging aggregators leveraging and marketing solutions to specific groups.

For consumers of GIS and imagery this has only just started to happen but just as we have seen in the commercial space, things move quickly. Not all users will be affected. Consumers with very complex requirements and those standing up mission critical solutions will still want to own the process chain. At the other end however, the game has already changed.

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