Value of Partnership: Maps

Scott Francis
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There was a time when Google and Apple seemed like two peas in a pod, destined to create great things together – great devices and great web services.  But then Google pursued building a competing phone operating system (and phones!), and the partnership frayed. 

I put the onus on Google, not because Apple is the good guy and Google is the bad guy, but because Google had strategic choices to make.  They could:

  1. Ignore mobile OS and just provide the best services (mail, maps, etc.) to any platforms that come along
  2. Support the open source effort known as Android, but not with explicit top-down support. Allow developers to work on and contribute to it, but let the leadership happen outside the company.
  3. Hype and support Android as a competitor to Apple’s iOS and go head-to-head.

Google chose #3.  But here we are a few years later, and Android Market share appears to have peaked, Google still makes most of its mobile $ from iOS, and it’s share of iOS services is in decline.  AppleInsider and others report that Apple Maps is now 75% of Maps usage on iOS now, despite a rough start 3 years ago

From Apple Insider:

According to an Associated Press report, Apple says Apple Maps logs more than 5 billion Maps-related requests each week, a number helped along by ongoing efforts to squash bugs, fix incorrect data points and add new features. The turnaround is as much a testament to Apple’s commitment to product as it is to the power of unbridled financial investment.

This outcome is both proof that Google mis-stepped, and proof that they did exactly the right thing, depending on your outlook.

  • If you believe Apple only built Maps because of competitive pressure from Android forcing it to come up with a differentiatedly good mapping solution that would simultaneously pinch Google ad revenue on iOS devices, then Google made a serious mistake in calling down the wrath of Steve Jobs.
  • If you believe that Apple was destined to build its own mapping solution and screw Google eventually regardless, then Google did the right strategic thing – plan for that eventuality by making sure there is at least a competing healthy platform that your maps and other services are exposed on.

We can’t know what Apple would have done had Google made a different choice, but we have no data to support a Maps product rolling out until quite some time after Android hit the market.  Should be some good business school case studies on these. Hope someone writes the book on how Google execs thought through this, and how Apple execs thought through it.  Great historical moment in business, that kicked off a round of really intense competition between two companies that probably could have been like Microsoft and Intel.

 

 

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