Apple ditches Google Maps, cosies up to Facebook

Apple has unveiled a new operating system for mobile devices, iOS6, which sees the firm ending its reliance on Google’s mapping software. Instead Apple has created its own mapping application in a move to take more control of the assets on its devices. One analyst warned that this announcement could have a negative knock-on effect on the operator community.

For its new Maps app, Apple has developed and designed its own mapping software from the ground-up, with turn-by-turn navigation and a “Flyover” view, which has interactive 3D photo views, similar to Google’s Street View technology.

The software uses vector-based map elements that allow users to pan, tilt and zoom in on maps, and its navigation capability guides users with spoken directions. The technology also incorporates real-time traffic information and offers alternate time-saving routes if traffic conditions change significantly.

In addition, the technology incorporates local search information for over 100 million businesses worldwide, offering information such as Yelp ratings, reviews, available deals and photos.

Nick Dillon, an analyst in Ovum’s Devices and Platforms team, said that his main observation from the launch of iOS6 is that Apple looking to take full control of all of its assets and all of the services that run on its devices.

“Apple has historically been reliant on third parties to provide a lot of functionality outside of the core phone functionality of their devices and there’s a general trend to bring more of it in-house, such as its iCloud service, and now with its maps. Taking mapping software back from Google was a main objective, because you don’t want to have your main competitor have prime real estate on your handsets.”

He added that this move for full ownership of assets and services will make Apple a less popular brand to deal with from an operator’s point of view.

“This won’t be a good thing for operators, they haven’t got a lot of opportunity to influence Apple devices heavily, they’re very locked down and Apple has a lot of control over its platforms,” explained Dillon. “But this will be a further step, removing any chance of them selling extra services on top of iOS devices.”

Another new feature incorporated into the new operating system is support for FaceTime calls to be made over cellular networks, rather than solely over wifi. However, Bengt Nordström, CEO at consultancy firm Northstream voiced doubts over whether this functionality will actually work.

“3G networks are congested already – most markets simply don’t have the capacity to make it work. Mapping and browsing is often difficult and slow and those aren’t real time point-to-point applications. There are a few countries where the networks are dense enough but, in most cases, the networks will not be able to deliver a satisfying 3G FaceTime experience,” he said.

He added that what the service will show is the real need for LTE.

“Yet the operators will ask: “where is the upside in revenue from this service to justify capex investment in my network?” FaceTime is a good product but it’s a risk to put the user experience in the hands of heavily-loaded 3G networks.”

Other new features incorporated into iOS6 include support for more languages for Siri, Apple’s voice-activated personal assistant tool and the ability to share photo streams via iCloud. Intriguingly, Apple has deepened its integration with Facebook, and the new iOS platform includes Facebook integration for Contacts and Calendar.

“It’s interesting that Apple decided to take a step back and give Facebook more access to the OS and embed itself deeply,” said Ovum’s Dillon. “Apple obviously doesn’t view Facebook as a big a competitor as Google, but that could come back to bite them in the future.”

The iOS 6 beta software and SDK are available immediately for iOS Developer Program members and the full operating system will be available as a free software update for iPhone 4S, iPhone 4, iPhone 3GS, the new iPad, iPad 2 and iPod touch (fourth generation) this autumn.

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