Tag Archives: Google

Google preempts Apple with Maps upgrade announcement

I recently wrote about the expected change in the iPhone/iOS native Maps application.  Apple is expected to replace Google as the backend and upgrade the app to include 3D maps. This is all supposed to be announced at WWDC on Monday, June 11.

Today, Google preempted this announcement with updates of its own regarding is mobile maps app.  It specified that these updates were for the Maps app on Android but made reference to availability in the future on iOS. More coverage from Mashable, Ars Technica and Apple Insider.

The features they announced:

1. 3D Maps (unclear how this will compare to Apple’s 3D maps and how much coverage there will be to start)

2. Offline maps (this was one of my top requested features, yay!)

3. Better “streetview” for walking directions in places without roads like parks, mountains, etc. See the photo below for Google’s new rig to capture these views. This is kind of cool but seems like it will take some time to get coverage.

It’s not entirely clear when these features will be available or the specifics about how they work.  It seems that Google wanted to announce these before Monday so as to:

1. Steal Apple’s thunder

2. Soften the blow when it’s announced they’re no longer powering the native app on iOS.

Unfortunately for Google, they are not in the same league as Apple when it comes to PR, so most people will not even hear about today’s announcements while Apple’s announcement on Monday will likely be accompanied by a launch of other sexy products and features and will get covered ad nauseam.  In general, I think this competition is great. When Google and Apple have competed in mobile OS, desktop browsers and elsewhere, consumers have reaped the benefits of some of the best and quickest tech innovation ever. Bring on the maps!

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The most important app on your iPhone is about to change

There have been persistent rumors over the past month or so that Apple will be replacing (upgrading?) the current Maps application with the new version of the iPhone operating system (iOS 6).  This has been expected for a while as Apple has purchased a variety of companies that work on parts of the map ecosystem. The screenshot above is a speculative screenshot of what the new app might look like in 3D view.

I’ve written before about how Maps may be the most important app on the iPhone.  Many people use the Maps app every day and it certainly has changed life for many folks – no more having to print directions or write them down before leaving the house on a drive, walk or trip. Despite any flaws or missing features, the Maps app has been a key part of the transformative experience of owning an iPhone.

Many people refer to the Maps app on the iPhone as Google maps.  It’s true that for now the underlying data comes from Google but like all the native apps on the iPhone, the app has always been built and maintained by Apple. Ever since Google launched Android and incurred Steve Jobs’s wrath, it was assumed that Apple would replace Google as their backend and it seems now is the time.

The rumors are that the app will receive a full overhaul – the backend will be owned by Apple and the visual look and feel will change to, particularly to include a 3D viewing option.

I will withhold judgement on whether or not the app will be an upgrade, but to me, the most important things that should be done to improve the functionality of the maps app are (I’ve written about these before):

1. Include turn-by-turn directions.  This means that rather than having to push “next”, the phone automatically tracks your progress and visually and orally provides the next set of instructions (just like your car’s GPS does).  It also corrects the directions automatically if you go off-route. Google’s app for Android does this well. The reason this used to be hard is due to licensing costs for using the underlying map data in this way. Google got around that by creating their own set of map data.

2. Include an option to download offline versions of maps for specified metro areas.  The GPS doesn’t require the cellular network to work and the app could be fully functional with offline maps. This would serve 2 functions:

  • Maps would load when network service is slow or unavailable (e.g. subway underground). There is nothing more frustrating than being lost and late to a meeting and watching a map try to load in the background.
  • When roaming outside one’s core country, one could use the maps app to navigate in an unknown city without paying exorbitant data roaming charges.
I’m not convinced that Apple will build an app that has great features and functionality vs. just more interesting design and views (e.g. 3D). So, I  hope that once Apple replaces Google from its backend that Apple approves a native Google Maps app for the app store. I also hope that Google builds and submits such an app that’s as good or better than their Android Maps app. Real competition for an app that is as core as Maps would be very healthy.

Google is not a government

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Google is not a government. Therefore, they are not in any way obligated to promote the social welfare of all, particularly not the business objectives of their competitors.

What am I referring to? Today’s Wall St. Journal featured an article documenting critics of Google’s practice of featuring their own products prominently in search results.  To me, this argument is so absurd that it’s unbelievable.  My two main reasons are as follows:

1. Google’s other products are mostly search engines in other verticals – shopping search, local search, etc.  They have competitors within each of these verticals who have their own dedicated search for these verticals.  If people prefer Yelp’s local search to Google’s, they should go to yelp.com to search for local businesses. Google shouldn’t be forced to prioritize linking to Yelp’s site/search results, Google is  a business with the legal responsibility to maximize profits to its shareholders. The way it does that is by prioritizing the needs of users to get to an answer or  to the best destination website in the quickest amount of time possible.

2. Even if Google started selling cars and wanted to put the links to their cars first no matter what car you searched for, so be it.  They are a corporation in a free market society.  The market will ensure that the best products will win. If customers prefer to search at Bing or Yelp or Trip Advisor, then they should and they will. It is absurd to suggest that because of Google’s success that they should be regulated to ensure “fair” treatment in search results. There is almost no product that is simpler for customers to switch to a competitor – just a click away. Amazon has had a huge ad for the Kindle on their home page for months. This is probably not loved by book publishers, but so what?  Becoming a successful business does not mean a company should be judged differently or made to play by different rules.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land has two great posts explaining the fallacy of the criticisms from the Wall St. Journal article. From his first post:

Google is a search engine. A search engine’s job is to point you to destination sites that have the information you are seeking, not to send you to other search engines. Getting upset that Google doesn’t point to other search engines is like getting upset that the New York Times doesn’t simply have headlines followed by a single paragraph of text that says “read about this story in the Wall Street Journal.”

It’s insane. It really is. A person comes to Google for answers. Back in the “old” days when search engines were just getting started, that generally meant simply getting lists of web pages (though even back then, even before Google, search engines also had some vertical search engines).

And his most recent post today discusses the article and the issue in even more detail.

I also find it ironic that one of the chief complainers in this article is Trip Advisor. I’m sorry, but their site is terrible. What they need is more competition from every angle.  Perhaps then they’ll have motivation to fix their own site and service. Competition from Yelp forced City Search to [eventually] start innovating again.  Maybe competition from Google will force Yelp to do the same again.  Google is not a utility, it’s not a government, it’s a business.  Other businesses would be wise to understand this and to spend their time innovating and not whining.

Groupon may be the Costco of E-commerce

Costco

Image via Wikipedia

Groupon has become such a retail/local/commerce phenomenon over the past couple of years that there are rumors of Google thinking of buying them for more than $3 billion.

I’ve been thinking for a while that Groupon’s success and psychology remind me of another very successful and pioneering retail model – Costco (fka Price Club).  What do I think they have in common?

For both of them, one tends to:

  • Buy things we never would have thought we needed or may not even have heard of
  • Feel immense satisfaction for saving so much money on these aforementioned questionable necessities
  • Brag to others about the great deal one got
  • Buy things in questionably necessary quantities
  • Stockpile goods for use at a future date – in both cases we ignore the time value of money (which may be quite reasonable in today’s interest rate environment) by buying things we know that we won’t get occasion to use for weeks, months or even years.  In Groupon’s case – all of their goods expire. At least some of the stuff you buy at Costco (like toilet paper) can last and last….(I think we still have trash bags from a trip to Costco from 5 years ago – when we lived in CA).

In both cases, competitors have tried to emulate the new retail model.  In the case of Costco – there’s Sam’s Club and BJ’s.  Unfortunately for Groupon, there are hundreds of imitators due to the lower cost of entry into the market. Even so, in both cases, the innovator maintains a healthy lead and market share and “owns” the category.

Costco uses many visual techniques to remind shoppers of the great deals they’re getting. They call their stores warehouses and design them as such.  Groupon uses the limited time nature of their deals to create another psychological impression of value.

Groupon has even further improved upon one aspect of Costco though.  While Costco gets people to come in to buy staple-type products and then sells them a whole variety of other stuff, Groupon doesn’t even need to attract people, it pushes these deals at them every day via e-mail.

Maybe Groupon should consider Costco’s membership model where Grouponers would have to pay an annual fee to get access to these great deals, or maybe that could be a premium Groupon membership.  This might even further cement the psychological notion of the great deal.  EditDan Entin correctly points out in the comments that Groupon requires a membership, albeit free, to see/access their daily deals.  This is definitely part of a “membership” paradigm on the web for e-commerce, including flash-sale sites like Gilt, which emphasize membership for ongoing deals vs. SEO or search for products/deals generally.

What do you think, is Groupon the Costco of the Web?