In response to the mere rumor that Apple was doing something fancy with its maps application for iOS6, Google has rushed to respond, sending fleets of planes into the skies to take oblique photos for better 3D maps. But what will the benefits be for users from this upheaval?
Google's Route to Success
Hyperbole aside, and more realistically, Google has long been planning updates to its desktop and mobile map products, but it looks to have rushed the latest release out of the door to beat Apple to the punch. The Google blog post announcing the update offers improved search and highlights many of the technological advances.
This new Android version of Maps is out now (iOS coming soon) includes improved street-level imagery, generated by packing cameras on bikes, walkers and even skiers to get closer views off off-road terrain. An offline mode for has also being added, for those strolling beyond a wireless signal, and the addition of 3D to mobile maps is a key message.
A Bite out of the Apple
Apple will likely unveil its new mapping app next week at WWDC as part of iOS 6.0. Word is that it will feature all-singing 3D and will likely be the standout update to iOS 6.0. That's a pretty good indicator as to the maturity of mobile OS, when a map update is the big thing to shout about. That's no reflection on Apple, just the pace at which these things have matured.
If it is integrated with Siri, so you can ask "where's the nearest restroom?", "get me through these traffic jams" or "show me the quickest route on foot to Madison Square Garden" then the hype will probably be justified. In reality, only a small percentage of always-travelling users will regularly benefit from such features, but it will make a neat showpiece.
Real World Benefits
Perhaps the most benefit from these updates will be to stores in malls, or big retail parks. Indoor mapping and location finding will make the easier to locate, and therefore improve their visibility on maps, making it more likely to use them.
Websites with neat 3D maps zooming about the place, perhaps offering an automatically generated direct route from the user's location to a store or business would be a neat attraction for users. Geo-targeting and local services can be used by businesses and advertisers, and increasingly deal-offer services, to highlight available services on these new map apps.
These are all pretty obvious conclusions to draw, which leaves a lingering doubt as to what some cunning developer at Apple has come up with to add further value to the service. What can they do to expand and extend the user experience, or to find new ways to monetize the product? We'll find that out next week, and it will have to be something special get users interested in a mere mapping product.