Apple Maps Can Teach Software Development Teams a Lesson

Did Apple make a major blunder in dumping Google Maps and rolling out its own mapping solution? Was Apple dumb enough to believe that its iOS mapping app is as good as or better than Google’s app?

Not a chance!

I think many people are missing the boat with regard to Apple’s actions and motivations. It was clear as far back as 2009 that Apple was building a “Geo Team”. That’s the year they bought the mapping service, PlaceBase. It was apparent that they were going to dump Google maps. It was simply a question of when.

Why maps?

Maps are important tools in our daily lives. More broadly, we use a variety of geolocation services. We want to know precisely where we are. We want directions to our destinations. We want to know what traffic conditions are like along our route. We want to see pictures of our route. We want to know where shops, restaurants and points of interest lie. We’re not accepting those old Rand McNally map books any longer. Times have changed.

Geolocation services are big business. There is a lot of money on the line. Advertisers are anxious to reach out to us as we pass targeted locations that may be of interest to us. This concept will eventually migrate indoors too. As we pass a clothing rack or an electronics display, advertisers will be able to ping us with special offers.

It’s all about revenue.

The revenue potential to Google, Apple and others in this space (e.g. Microsoft and Nokia) is staggering — if they can control the geolocation services. Google gets most of its revenue from desktop advertising. Mobile advertising has even bigger potential. Imagine combining the revenues of Google and Apple into a single company. That’s what Apple wants!

As long as Google controlled mapping on iOS, Apple was at a serious revenue disadvantage. If the relationship between the two companies wasn’t so caustic, they could have entered into a revenue-sharing arrangement. Under current circumstances, that’s simply not possible (though it could change in the future).

Apple had no choice but to roll the dice and take a chance on its own mapping solution. The potential rewards make it well worth the risk. If they had waited another year, Google would have raised the bar. Google Maps is more sophisticated today than it was in 2009 and it will be more sophisticated a year from now than it is today.

Apple couldn’t wait any longer.

Will they succeed? Only time will tell. If any company can turn a situation like this around, it’s Apple! They are big enough, powerful enough, and rich enough to get it done.

Apple needs to improve its mapping app through a series of fast-paced iterations. Their customer base is loyal and will tolerate some weaknesses as long as they perceive that Apple is working hard to fix the problems.

There’s a good lesson here for agile software development teams too. Start simple — don’t try to build the perfect software system in the first deployment. Iterate quickly — show the user base that you are serious about making the software better. Listen intently — the user base is the best judge of what’s needed in the software.

photo credit: Aaron Edwards via photopin cc

Updated: October 2, 2012 — 10:01 pm