Apple’s gathering of your GPS info is just the beginning of the end for the Google Maps era

Today at the O’Reilly Where 2.0 Conference, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden revealed an unencrypted file in the iOS 4 that records your GPS locations and timestamps. If you own an iPhone or a 3G iPad that runs iOS 4, then your location stats have been gathered and then sent over to Cupertino via iTunes. I’m not going to into the details about this since the source link does a pretty thorough job. I’m also not going to lambast the people crying about Apple’s blatant breach of our privacy and El-Jobso proving once again that he is an evil Silicon Valley overlord. Actually, I think I will. Get your heads out of your asses. Your location is tracked on a daily basis more accurately than your occasional use of your iPhone’s GPS. Do you use a credit card? Your location is tracked with each purchase. Do you use a membership club, like a gym card or a supermarket club card? Your location is being tracked every time you use it. Do you use the internet? Every time you log in to your email, social network, or other website your login location is recorded and stored. Oh, and I almost forgot the big ones: FourSquare or Facebook Places. Are you using those? Then STFU. No matter what you do you are being directly or indirectly tracked by companies for their internal use, so the fact that Apple is gathering and recording your GPS locations isn’t a huge surprise, considering that it is planning on launching a Google Maps equivalent in the near future.

Wait what? Yes, conveniently everyone seems to have forgotten that Apple purchased Canadian map startup Poly9 back in 2010 and Placebase back in 2009. It seems that people are too busy marching towards Cupertino headquarters, banging their war drums and calling demanding for an explanation as to why their precious privacy is being breached. Apple doesn’t snatch up two map and location based services for no reason. In fact, it’s Apple’s mantra to take a product or service and then redevelop it internally until it fits its standards and expectations. Given the time passed since both Placebase and Poly9 were grabbed by Apple, it would be safe to assume that Apple is now working on revolutionizing tweaking its GPS algorithms. Hence why Apple is gathering your GPS info. It isn’t interested in where you’ve been as much as it is with how you got there. It’s analyzing and studying user stats from Google Maps and saying, “this is how Google does it. Can we make it better?” The same results can be achieved with sending out a team of employees to travel around the world but this is a far less costly and more effective method.

I’ve always been wary of the Apple-Google relationship. Ever since Google became Apple’s direct competitor with Android the relationship between the two soured and I’ve wondered, are they in a “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” relationship? Google needs Apple because its one of its biggest licensees for its search and maps products. Apple needs Google because it offers the best maps and search alternatives out there that aren’t run by direct competitors like Microsoft (Bing) or Nokia (NAVTEQ). However, it is 2011 and that relationship is fizzling. Microsoft entered the mobile market with a bang and it does not rely on Google for its search and its maps. And with its new partnership with Nokia, Microsoft has access to NAVTEQ making it pointless to even give Google Maps a second thought. That leaves iOS and Android as the other two major competitors on the market. It’s a no-brainer that Android will continue to rely on Google search and Google Maps. But what if it loses Apple, the most dominant force in the mobile sector? With Blackberry in smartphone turmoil, Google is seeing the walls begin to close in on itself.

Granted this doesn’t mean that Google Maps will cease to exist for iOS. Like its other Google products, it will become available on the App Store as an addon. It also is unknown as what kind of backlash Apple will receive from its userbase when it rolls out its maps alternative as a stock feature on its devices. Google Maps is already so deeply integrated into our lives and our apps that Apple would need to do something completely…ahem…magical and revolutionary with its maps product to win over consumers and developers. Which brings us back to Apple gathering your GPS info. This is a good thing. In fact we should be cheering Apple on for collecting and meticulously studying our movement patterns. If there is anything the mobile industry needs, it is more innovation. Apple can do this, but not blindly. So please, don’t whine about this frivolous “privacy breach” everyone is crying about. Just remember that the next big thing in maps and GPS might make its appearance on the iPhone 6, and it never would have made it there without your help.

Source: O’Reilly Radar

9 thoughts on “Apple’s gathering of your GPS info is just the beginning of the end for the Google Maps era”

  1. There’s a lot of things wrong with this argument so, if I may… For starters:

    “Apple doesn’t snatch up two map and location based services for no reason.”

    Of course not. But that doesn’t make the reason “to make a maps app”. Remember Lala? They bought that back in 2009 and we still haven’t seen the fruits of that purchase. Maybe they’re making something with it, but for all we know, they bought it up to get a competitor off the market, for the resources the company has, any number of things. A similar issue happened when Apple and Google were fighting over AdMob and later Quattro. Granted, that actually ended up turning into iAds, but Apple has done little to promote the platform and it’s largely floundering. It seems like going after advertising, while something Apple was legitimately interested in, was more a move to ensure their competitor, Google, didn’t gain overwhelming dominance.

    “Google needs Apple because its one of its biggest licensees for its search and maps products.”>

    This is also simply false. Inferring, by the number of iOS devices, that Apple must be their “biggest licensees” is simply bad logic. Google’s map data powers untold numbers of web apps all over the internet. And in terms of search, Google is the reigning king in terms of search, and that’s across all kinds of platforms. If a threat is going to come from this area, it’s not going to be from Apple developing a new product, but from Bing, who is actually giving Google a significant hard time. iOS is but one of the products that uses Google search and map data, but Apple is not of so critical importance that Google will crumble if they lose Apple.

    “Apple needs Google because it offers the best maps and search alternatives out there that aren’t run by direct competitors like Microsoft (Bing) or Nokia (NAVTEQ).”

    This, too, is patently false. For starters, Google is a direct competitor to Apple. How is there such a huge rivalry between the two if they’re not competitors? Microsoft has been their competitor for longer but that doesn’t make them any more legitimate of a threat now. It’s silly to think that Google is somehow less of a threat. And, for what it’s worth, it’s silly to think that Apple couldn’t just as easily go with a TomTom or Garmin app. Google Maps on the iPhone is crippled compared to what it is on Android. Other products from non-smartphone companies are much more fully featured. Apple could easily license, bundle or repackage some of their services for use on the iPhone instead of using Google Maps. Apple doesn’t need Google any more than Google needs Apple.

    “But what if it loses Apple, the most dominant force in the mobile sector?”

    This claim is, at best, substantiated by a very broad definition of “the mobile sector”. If we’re talking about smartphones, Apple is not even close to the most dominant force. They get a lot of attention, but Android is outselling them and has more users in both the domestic market and worldwide, and that lead is gaining. Even if you expand it to include the iPod Touch and the iPad, the number of current users is higher than Android, but Android smartphones alone are selling more than all three of Apple’s iOS products put together. Once Android tablets start getting their act together, it’s entirely likely that this trend will only get higher. This isn’t to say that Apple isn’t powerful in the mobile market, but to claim that they’re somehow on a substantially higher plane than Google is ridiculous. Both have an equally strong influence on the market. Again, no one needs the other.

    “Granted this doesn’t mean that Google Maps will cease to exist for iOS. Like its other Google products, it will become available on the App Store as an addon.”

    This may actually end up being the best thing possible for Google Maps. As stated before, the current iOS Google Maps app is outright crippled. Navigation, arguably the most valuable feature in Google Maps doesn’t exist. Latitude is only available through the browser. Places…is that part of Google Maps on iOS? I’m honestly not sure, but if it’s not, it should be. If Google were to get muscled out of the featured maps position, they’d have a much bigger incentive to make their iOS app amazing. If they could make it half as good as the Android counterpart, they could handily clean up plenty of that marketshare back.

    Ultimately, though, this still leaves us with one remaining question: how does any of this lead to the “end of the Google Maps era”? Google Maps is not a mobile app. It’s an online service with a mobile app front end. It’s still used by millions of people on desktops, it’s still the default maps app on the largest and fastest growing smartphone platform, and in terms of competitors, Bing is still a much bigger rival than Apple could possibly be in the next year. Lest we forget that Apple would still have to manage to collect and maintain tons of map data. Unless they’re sending out unmarked vans with camera rigs on top of them, I’d like to think we’d have heard if they were creating a Street View competitor, which Bing does have. There’s simply a lot of work to be done before anyone could claim that anything is “ending” Google Maps.

    It’s as silly as claiming that iOS is the beginning of the end of the Windows era.

    1. 1) There’s always an exception to the rule. But Apple has a very strong track record to back my claim, especially in the last decade. There’s always exceptions, but they don’t outweigh the majority.

      2) I said ‘one of its biggest.’ not ‘its biggest.’ With over 40million iPhones sold, I think that’s considered a big licensee. iPhone’s don’t come stock with Google Maps for free. They pay a royalty to Google. I never said Google will go bust if Apple develops its Maps product.

      3) Google and Apple don’t compete in Maps or Search. The rivalry exists in the mobile software market, not the maps and search. Android vs iOS, that’s the competition. Garmin and TomTom could have been alternatives but they weren’t chosen. Google Maps was. Eric Schmidt also sat on Apple’s board, so it’s hard to believe that Garmin or TomTom would have been chosen. Google Maps for iPhone might not be as powerful as it is on Android, but it certainly is deeply integrated in iOS and its apps. Why aren’t app developers like FourSquare focusing on TomTom instead of Google Maps? Rhetorical question. So yes, currently Apple does need Google and Google does need Apple. Looking at it narrowly as “they’re not direct competitors in maps and search” doesn’t reveal that. Look at it broadly and the parallel exists. And threats are generated overnight. It makes no difference that Bing has been around for a while. It’s what Bing + NAVTEQ will innovate to bring to Nokia WP7 phones that will matter.

      4) Apple IS the most dominant force. Its carrying a quarter of the US smartphone market share with a single product. Google has an equivalent market share with more than a dozen products. Who is more powerful, one man who has a million dollars or one million people with one dollar each? My point stands.

      5) If you read the entire paragraph you would see how I say this IS a good thing as it will spur innovation from both ends.

      6) Sorry, we are in a Google Maps era. Mobile is the future of computing and it is currently dominated by Google Maps. WP7 and Apple’s upcoming Maps product will change that. That doesn’t mean Google Maps will shut down. It means that Google Maps will not have the Maps and GPS monopoly on mobile devices.

      1. 1.) That may be true, but in this industry, you’re not shit until you ship. Apple bought Lala back in 2009 and it was rumored that they would develop music streaming. Amazon just recently launched the Cloud Player. Amazon won. It doesn’t matter what Apple’s thinking about doing or planning to do or developing, until it’s in users hands, it’s vapor. Rumors and whispers aren’t the beginning of the end of anything. As you said, threats are generated overnight, so hyping what Apple’s planning is no more inert than hyping Google’s upcoming music service. Until it’s in users hands, it doesn’t matter.

        2.) Fair point, but I still think you overestimate just how much Google’s marketshare or revenue streams are dependent on Apple devices.

        3.) I’m honestly not sure what you’re even arguing here. The original sentence makes no sense in any context. How does Google Maps “offers the best maps and search alternatives out there that aren’t run by direct competitors like Microsoft (Bing) or Nokia (NAVTEQ)”? Apple doesn’t compete with Google in maps because Apple doesn’t compete with anyone in maps. And there’s few areas relevant to the smartphone (or more broad “mobile”) industry where Apple and Google don’t compete, but Apple and Microsoft or Apple and Nokia do. I honestly don’t understand what this sentence is supposed to mean.

        4.) For starters, Google does not have an equivalent marketshare to the iPhone, it has a greater share. A third of the market, by comScore’s February 2011 numbers, to Apple’s quarter. Secondly, I fail to see how being made by a single manufacturer makes them somehow more powerful than Google’s platform. For starters, which is more powerful? The man with a million dollars, or the man who gets to tell ten people with a million dollars each what to do? Your analogy is flawed. But beyond that, it’s entirely irrelevant to the Maps argument. Motorola, HTC, Samsung, whatever. Every single Android device (with rare exceptions) comes with Google Maps preinstalled. Sure, Apple’s a powerful market force, and no one could reasonably deny that, but claiming that Google, with their Maps app installed on 23 million U.S. smartphones needs Apple’s 18 million U.S. smartphones if they want to survive is absurd. Especially when, by my last count, Android was activating around 2.5 million new handsets every month in the U.S. alone, compared with Apple’s roughly 400k-800k (some of my numbers don’t reflect enough of the Verizon iPhone’s effect, but it seems to have roughly doubled the number of new activations, bringing it a rough 800k). You could make all the claims you like all day long about Apple’s power, but Android smartphone sales are outpacing Apple’s by at least 3-to-1, and every new handset is a new Google Maps user. This “need” is simply fabricated.

        The thing is, you’re crying for the end of a “Google Maps era” which seems a.) entirely unnecessary. There are currently very popular options out there for mapping services including Bing maps, TomTom and Garmin for GPS devices, MapQuest (I’m as shocked as you are, but yes, a significant number of people still use it), and plenty others. Google Maps is likely the biggest, and arguably the best, but that doesn’t make it a monopoly. Google Maps will continue to do what it does even after competent competitors become as expansive as Google Maps is.

        And b.) this claim that the Google Maps era is going to end based on speculation about what Apple is going to do solely because they bought a company is absurd. Even if you could guarantee that Apple is going to release a maps application (which you can’t, regardless of your intuition or Apples more-tenuous-than-you-think-it-is track record), who’s to say it wouldn’t suck all the balls? Apple bought Quattro to build iAds. Developers with iAds are having trouble keeping their ad space filled and Apple doesn’t seem to keen on mentioning the product, except where they’re creating special apps for the sole purpose of displaying more ads, which frankly seems odd at best and desperate at worst. Not everything Apple touches is solid gold and unless they’re going to come out with an unbelievable maps app that does far more than it possibly could without us hearing about it (as I mentioned before, to even reach feature parity with Bing and Google, we’d have to have some form of street view, and not even Apple can keep that kind of reconnaissance under wraps). We’d at least certainly hear more rumors since they bought the companies a while back. Even if Apple is planning a maps app, it’s not going to be here any time soon. And when it does get here, it still has to prove itself competent, and even then, that’s assuming that Google hasn’t overrun the smartphone market with Google Maps’ equipped smartphones.

        But most importantly, the need to claim that Apple is going to be the one to dethrone Google Maps seems outright ridiculous when you realize that Microsoft and Nokia are sitting in the corner screaming “Hey guys! We’re still here, you know!” Microsoft has Bing maps and Nokia has Navteq. They’ve also just struck a deal to all but marry each other. If there’s going to come a maps app that’s going to give Google Maps a run for its money, it’s far more likely that it’s going to come from the WP7 camp. Hell, it’s even more fun to speculate about. See, watch this:

        “A little over a year and a half ago, Android was sitting pretty at about 3% of the smartphone market when they released the Droid, the first major Android handset that didn’t suck, on Verizon, with a killer new Navigation app on board. Now, just two years later, WP7 is in that same position, with a better head start than Android was when they were that size. Only now, we’ve got the tried and true mapping powers of both Microsoft’s Bing and Nokia’s Navteq fueling whatever Maps application Microsoft is developing (and don’t be fooled, they are developing it), plus we’re going to see this unique app land on a platform that doesn’t suck when it comes to multimedia as well. The iPhone has iTunes and Android has Google Maps, but what platform has the potential to have all of their strengths and none of their weaknesses? You guessed it. WP7. To say nothing of the fact that Microsoft has the resources, the connections, and the skills to make a powerful move in any area of the technology market. Who would’ve thought Microsoft could take the console market by storm in just two consoles? This is another of Microsoft’s big moves, and it’s shaping up to give Google a run for its money for the top spot.”

        See? Far less conjecture, an underdog narrative, and best of all, it’s exciting. And could happen!

        I’m sorry, but I just can’t get behind this idea that Apple buying a maps company a couple years ago and collecting user location data somehow means Apple’s going to pose any form of threat to Google Maps when there’s so many other, more substantial forms of competition coming from other areas of the market. Apple’s great, I like Apple. I’ve got stock in Apple, I want them to succeed. But they’re not the only company around. They’re not even the best company at everything. At some things. But not everything.

        1. Might I suggest that this topic is a good editorial to pose. I thoroughly dislike the idea of a hive mind in our den.

        2. Apple might be after data only to licence them to third parties, instead of creating maps and GPS apps on their own. 

          For instance, TomTom’s HD traffic is sourced from cellular signals from Vodafone.

          Replace Vodafone by Apple and TomTom by ‘any GPS app developer’ and you have an interesting revenue source for Apple. This traffic information might even be an add-on to Google maps, since Google and Apple don’t compete in the maps business. 

          But don’t rule out TomTom. For instance: 40% of all Renault cars come with an in-dash TomTom ‘live’ navigation system. So almost half of all new Renault cars are providing data to TomTom. And TomTom also manufactures for Fiat, Mazda, Alfa Romeo and Toyota (and more to come). So there’s a lot of competition going on to get the most accurate traffic data. And TomTom is not legging behind. 

           An interesting move by HTC is that they now have TomTom maps pre-installed on their phones. When navigating the phones go straight to the TomTom maps, bypassing Google maps. On HTC the maps are free. Turn-by-turn and HD traffic can be purchased within the app. 

          These HTC phones are also enriching TomTom data. It’s possible TomTom provides maps for ‘a small price’ to HTC, and in return HTC provides data and customers for payed in-app add-ons, like turn-by-turn, speedcams and HD traffic.

          The example of HTC is where Android is vulnerable. Google has no control over the hardware. So if a certain brand does use Android, without using Google maps, then they can’t really do anything about it. 

          HTC is the fastest growing smartphone manufacturer. What if TomTom or another GPS company does the same trick with for instance Samsung. Then again Google maps would be bypassed. 

          Don’t know where this is going, numerous things going on. And I don’t have a clear picture. I just added this information as a piece to this puzzle. Not to give a bigger picture (I can’t).

          Ok, Android is bigger then iOS. But Apple controls both the hardware (iphone) and the platform, which is a plus. Also the Android appstore is just a fragment of the Apple appstore. For some reason Apple users are more willing to pay for decent apps. Android users seem to want everything for free.

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