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Apple Moves to Kill GPS Devices, Reduce Dependence on Google
Sales of portable navigation devices, in-car navigation systems, and third-party GPS apps will take another dive, thanks to Apple’s announcement at WWDC.
Apple made a number of significant announcements at its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) yesterday, but one of the most insidious was its widely expected move to launch Maps, the company’s homespun mapping and GPS navigation service.
The updated app marks the first time the iPhone will have free, voice-enabled GPS navigation. It also includes real-time traffic, Yelp integration, crowd-sourced traffic data (hello Waze), Siri support, and the ability to work in the lock screen. In a move to match Google, Apple is also working on 3D modeling for buildings and terrain data, which it will acquire by flying planes over U.S. cities.
In addition, Apple has struck some sort of deal with TomTom, which this morning sent out one of the best press releases I’ve ever seen. It’s short enough to quote here in full: “TomTom (AEX:TOM2) has signed a global agreement with Apple for maps and related information. No further details of the agreement will be provided.” Clearly Apple has worked its secrecy magic with this deal.
Nonetheless, assuming the voice-enabled GPS navigation portion performs well—and we’re going to review the heck out of it when it’s available—Apple will have eliminated one of Android’s most compelling advantages to date. You can even tick off the Google Maps Navigation features Apple is going after, such as entering addresses by voice, satellite imagery, and photo uploads.
Standalone GPS Devices are Dying
Sales of portable navigation devices (PNDs) have been declining for several years now. With Apple’s announcement yesterday, Garmin, TomTom, and Magellan’s prospects just dimmed a little more on the hardware side. There will be a market for standalone devices for some time, of course, since not everyone has smartphones. But with the top two mobile OSes holding 80 percent of sales, and smartphones now commanding over 50 percent of all new phone sales, it’s clear where the market is headed.
To be sure, standalone devices still harbor advantages. Screen sizes trend larger; though Android devices in particular are catching up, thanks to a bevy of phones with 4.7-, 4.8-, and even 5.3-inch panels. But I’m testing a 6-inch TomTom device right now that costs just $229. GPS location accuracy also still seems better, although even standalone devices still get lost sometimes in urban canyons (such as downtown Manhattan or Boston).
This move also puts more pressure on the automakers, all of whom guard their in-dash navigation territory closely, as it’s a huge profit center. Auto navigation offers an undeniable advantage in terms of aesthetics, and in the case of more advanced systems like Ford Sync, it also integrates well with other systems in the car. But with free navigation on every Android phone and iPhone, exactly how many new car buyers will want to spend $1,200 on a built-in navigation option if they already have it on their phones?
It Affects GPS Apps Even More
In addition to killing off standalone GPS devices, the other immediate thrust of Apple’s foray into mapping is clear: It means to reduce dependence on Google. Every single mobile device Apple sells is dependent on a service its chief competitor (at least in that same mobile market) provides. By eliminating Google Maps from its devices, Apple can sleep better at night, without wondering if Google will ever shut down its service or make it somehow inferior when running on iOS devices.
With this move, all Android devices and iPhones will have free, voice-enabled GPS navigation. That means that not only are standalone devices in even more trouble, but that the market for GPS apps could tank—and fast. That puts TeleNav and Networks In Motion in the firing line, as well as Garmin and Magellan, the latter two of whom were already making inroads on the consumer app side. TomTom is obviously less affected here, since it has entered into agreement with Apple.
Early indications are that Apple still has a ways to go before it catches Google. First, AppleInsider is reporting that only the iPhone 4S, and not the iPhone 4, will support voice navigation. That’s crazy, of course, since the iPhone 4 is plenty powerful; it reads like a play to force hardware upgrades. A few more events like this and Android will no longer have a monopoly on OS fragmentation. But it’s also a big question mark whether Apple’s routing algorithms and POI search will suit themselves to car navigation, as both will be a first for the company.
Still, make no mistake: Apple Maps will impact the standalone GPS, in-car navigation, and third-party GPS app markets to a significant degree. It won’t affect Google quite as much. Google is more than strong enough to weather the impact from losing its primary source of mobile map traffic, and while free GPS navigation was a big draw for Android phones, I don’t expect many people were buying Android phones solely for that purpose.
At any rate, stay tuned for our full Apple Maps review. This should be interesting.
For more, see Apple Unveils iOS 6 With Revamped Maps, Siri on iPad, More as well as The History of Car GPS Navigation, as well as our WWDC slideshow below.
For more from Jamie, follow him on Twitter @jlendino.
By Jamie Lendino, PCMag