The portable GPS navigation market was dealt a harsh blow this week when Apple announced it would offer its own mobile navigation solution with car integration at a developer's conference. Called simply "Maps," this reinvented app combines turn-by-turn navigation with the voice control of Siri, Apple's digital assistant.
The new Maps app will replace the current Google-sourced Maps app on Apple devices when the next-generation operating system, iOS 6, is deployed in the fall. This new offering promises to go far beyond the version of Google Maps currently available to iPhone users, which lacks much functionality offered in the Android-equivalent application.
The company declared that is iOS 6 app will use Apple-designed cartography, ensuring a familiar look and feel. Separately, navigation giant TomTom announced that it has entered an agreement with Apple to provide "maps and related information." It is easy to envision Apple applying its design talents, as shown in the sample screens above, to underlying TomTom map data, making for a powerful combination. And potentially, Apple could enhance navigation with TomTom's historic and real-time traffic data. Apple has said real-time traffic is a part of Maps, including the ability to offer alternative routes around trouble spots, and that it would collect anonymous data from iPhone users to inform its traffic data.
As has become common on portable systems, the new Maps will include reality view—simulated highway systems to help the driver compare onscreen guidance to the real world.
A purely fun addition to the genre, Apple is introducing "Flyover," a feature that provides 3D renderings of major cities, allowing users to take a virtual aerial tour. This promises to be entertaining for exploring exotic locales on a tablet from the comfort of one's living room.
Web-enabled point-of-interest (POI) searches have become commonplace on smart phones and higher-end portable devices. It will be interesting to see how Apple approaches this by using Siri as both a concierge and tour guide, all via voice command.
An integration twist that will give the Apple Maps a boost over rival Google is that several automakers—reportedly including BMW, Chrysler, General Motors, Honda, and Toyota—plan to integrate a one-touch button to access the iPhone's features. Users in cars without such integration should get a dedicated mount. (We have found the mounts from Magellan and TomTom with an integrated speaker and GPS receiver to better enable a smart phone to mimic a dedicated navigation device.)
What was once a battle between device makers, shifted to competition between applications, and now, a head-to-head among the leading smart-phone operating systems. As a result, most smart phone users will soon have helpful navigation tools readily at hand, whether on foot or in a car.
This fall, iOS 6 will be available for the iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone, including Maps.