Apple WWDC: iOS 6 says farewell to Google Maps

By Jonny Evans

Speculation that the Apple [AAPL] iPhone 5 will be introduced in June's moved on in the wake of general consensus it won't appear until the September/October time-frame, so what's the Mac web going to do for direction? iOS 6 -- specifically the seeming imminent dumping of Google Maps for a new feature the world and its brother this morning's calling: 'Apple Maps'.

[ABOVE: A hint of what's to come in Apple Maps.]

Years of development

Apple has been working for years to pull together the pieces to launch its own mapping services for the iPhone. The company has made a range of acquisitions with this in mind, starting with Placebase, C3 and Poly9.

Most recently traces of the system were discovered within the iPhoto app for iOS. That's the thin end of the wedge, maps used were low on data and imagery used was pretty basic. The data for these maps (available inside the Places function, is provided by OpenStreetMaps).

If you were looking at the maps inside iPhoto you'll likely have felt they offer nothing more appealing than Google Maps -- pictorially lacking, to say the least. This changes soon as the new Apple maps introduce what 9to5Mac calls an "incredible 3D mode".

That report has since been confirmed by AllThingsD, which says their sources describe the new Maps app as a leading feature of iOS 6, one designed to, "blow your head off."


[ABOVE: Apple's iPhoto app includes a very basic propretary mapping service within the 'Places' function.]

Developers, developers, developers

The move to abandon Google Maps isn't likely to be a complete overhaul, at least, not at first. Apple will probably need to maintain OS-level support for Google Maps at least for a tertiary period in order that developers can continue to make use of these within their existing apps.

This does mean that development code for use of Apple Maps within iOS apps is likely to get some time in the limelight at WWDC. These maps are expected to provide a "cleaner and faster experience," according to the site.

The plan shows the ever-widening gap between Apple and former ally, Google. Apple executives clearly share former CEO, Steve Jobs' opinion that Google's Android OS is a "stolen product" and continue in their strategy to put a chasm between themselves and the search engine firm.

"This move is entirely expected," Forrester analyst Charles Golvin told Wired. "The relationship between Apple and Google has been moving steadily from one of partners to competitors, and Apple has increasingly sought to displace Google technology whenever possible."

What you get

What can you expect from the new Maps? Apple has previously claimed it won't enter into a market segment unless it sees an opportunity to create a distinctive user experience.

Equally, it seems unlikely it wants to see much in the way of competitive lag with Google, who now offers handy features such as turn-by-turn navigation and indoor maps within its software. Apple will be chasing down data to match these features. And, indeed, it has been doing so: last April it confirmed itself to be gathering anonymous traffic data for a crowd-sourced travel database....

An augmented reality patent application filed by the company last year "described an invention that would overlay data such as directions or street names in real time on top of live video," notes AppleInsider.

Apple also has a range of 3D and additional mapping patents which suggest interesting uses for its maps, including the capacity to exaggerate requested data within an overall accurate representation of a place. I see that as making your destination point larger than it is in reality in order to help guide a traveler's footsteps.

WWDC 2012

Apple's new Maps may be the flagship announcement at WWDC, but eyes will also be watching to see if Siri emerges from beta in a new version, perhaps supporting a wider set of searches for international iPhone users.

There will be some curiosity if Siri is extended to other devices, including to Macs; there's some speculation at a new version of iTunes. iOS 6 is also likely to field new features aimed at the widening church of enterprise users, GameCenter improvements (including better 3D avatars) and more. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear talk of new interconnect technology, and, potentially, discussion of NFC support in within future devices in order to give developers a chance to implement the standard within their apps.

WWDC launches June 11 in San Francisco. What are you expecting from the show?

Keep up with further iPhone 5 coverage here:

Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when these items are published here first on Computerworld.   

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon