Apple Maps Is No Longer A Punchline
The iOS map has added more reviews aimed at travelers, indicating an aggressive marketing stance in advance of Apple Watch sales.
The addition of user reviews from TripAdvisor and Booking.com to Apple Maps will help round out reviews from existing partner Yelp; but more importantly, the travel-focused content also highlights the Apple product’s quiet evolution since making its debut in 2012.
The integration of the TripAdvisor and Booking.com reviews appears in only a few cities, noted MacRumors’ Eric Slivka, who first reported the news on Sunday. So far, most hotel reviews still come from Yelp, Slivka observed, while most links to Bookings.com on Apple Maps are in Europe.
Since Apple hasn’t officially announced its deals with TripAdvisor and Bookings.com, it’s likely that a full incorporation of those sites respective reviews is still in the works.
In any case, the expanded reviews suggest that Apple is looking to make its native maps app more valuable to users and businesses as the company prepares to open pre-orders this Friday for the much-hyped Apple Watch. Altogether, the new arrangements mark a faintly noticed growth phase for Apple Maps, said Marc Prioleau, managing director of Prioleau Advisors, a location and local marketing services consultancy.
“I realized a while ago that we’ve got to stop using Apple Maps as a punchline to a joke,” Prioleau said. “They’ve put a lot of effort into it and built a pretty impressive team. Looking back, after Apple Maps launched, you didn’t hear much from them for about a year-and-a-half. After that, they started making some acquisitions like HopStop and four other small purchases. That suggested to me that they had worked through the internal, technology problems and that they were now ready to expand.”
In the fall of 2012, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the unprecedented step — for Apple, that is — of apologizing for the complaints of location inaccuracies, incorrect city labels and landmarks, and an absence of transit directions. User frustration was stoked even higher when Apple decided to replace the popular Google Maps app with its own offerings widely considered to be inferior.
As Prioleau noted, a lot has changed since then.
Stepping Out Of Google’s Shadow
Apple Maps is a big organization within the company these days. A search for “maps” on the job section of Apple’s website shows 194 positions currently open.
“Apple Maps is relevant because a lot of traffic gets driven to it as the default on any iOS platform,” Prioleau said. “They are investing heavily in making themselves a very competitive map alternative to Google. To do that, they need to be as good. However, Apple is still primarily a device and services business, not an ad platform, so their motivations will be different from Google’s.”
The changes at Apple Maps have been forming over the past two years. The unit started rebuilding its location services functions with the purchases of mapping companies Broadmap and Embark in early 2013. Through the spring and summer of that year, Apple acquired indoor navigation provider WiFiSlam, as well as crowdsourced geo-data platform Locationary, and then HopStop.
Appealing To Local Marketers
After absorbing those startups, Apple set to work on attracting local businesses to its location platform with last fall’s introduction of Mapping Connect, a free, self-serve portal that allows businesses to add or amend their listings and related place-based content.
As Google has continued its outreach to small-to-medium sized businesses to partner on advertising and Digital Presence Management programs, Apple is making a softer play for local marketers’ affinity. The inclusion of Yelp and Booking.com reviews certainly target a potential vulnerability in Google’s business.
“Google has had an uneasy alliance with some businesses,” Prioleau said. “Google and Yelp have had a contentious relationship at times. And Google has been making some aggressive moves in the travel and booking business. I don’t see Apple getting as deeply into the travel business, so it’s probably more of a benign partner, a less potentially competitive one, than Google.”
The bottom line for Apple is to ensure that its maps product provides a better consumer experience. Once it’s established that, Apple can carve out a clearer set of programs for marketers.
The point is not only to serve as an alternative to Google. The larger reason for Apple to prove its mapping expertise is to impress location-focused app developers and marketers who are looking for partners they can rely on to help meet the increased demand for geomarketing services in the local, digital space.
“I think all major platforms are looking to build some part of geospatial assets to either get unique capability or to avoid competition,” Prioleau said. “That’s the big trend in the market right now.”