The original launch of Apple Maps was far from a rousing success. Though Apple may have initially been hoping to give Google a run for its money, the first iteration of Apple Maps was famously plagued by bugs and laughably inaccurate mapping directions. Compounding matters was that Apple Maps’ feature set at the time didn’t even include transit directions, thus relegating it to more of a curiosity or second-option than a legit contender to Google’s throne.
But over time, Apple has quietly but steadily improved both the usability and reliability of Apple Maps. And with the recent launch of transit direction support in iOS 9, Apple Maps signaled that it was finally ready to be taken seriously. While the notion of Apple Maps as a serious rival to Google Maps was admittedly laughable just a few years ago, Apple Maps today is now more popular on the iPhone and iPad than Google Maps.
Word of Apple Maps’ popularity on iOS comes straight from Apple itself, who recently revealed that Apple Maps on the iPhone and iPad is now used more than three times as often as the “next leading competitor”, an obvious allusion to Google Maps. Furthermore, an Apple representative told the Associated Press that Apple Maps now handles more than 5 billion mapping requests each and every single week.
Apple fixed errors as users submitted them. It quietly bought several mapping companies, mostly for their engineers and other talent. This fall, it added transit directions for several major cities, narrowing a major gap with Google. Apple Maps is now used more widely than Google Maps on iPhones.
Apple’s significant investment in fixing Maps underscores how important maps and related services are to tech companies. Location is key to helping phone users find restaurants and shops, discover things to do and just get around. It’s also big business, as app makers tap into the core mapping functions of phones to direct people in helpful ways and sometimes offer them bargains based on where they’re standing.
While Google still remains the overall mapping leader when it comes to all smartphones, the resurgence of Apple Maps underscores just how valuable the real estate on the iOS homescreen truly is. While more tech-minded folks are likely to have a number of mapping apps on their devices, the average user is prone to simply using whatever app comes pre-installed on his or her device.
That said, with Apple having no problem kicking Google Maps to the curb, it’s not all that unreasonable to wonder if Apple might eventually do the same to Google search.
As it stands today, Google remains the default search engine on mobile Safari, a privilege which costs the search giant more than $1 billion a year. What’s more, it’s been estimated that nearly 75% of Google’s mobile search related revenues come from iOS users.
Note this excerpt from a 2015 New York Times article.
A recent analysis by Goldman Sachs estimated that Google collected about $11.8 billion on mobile search ads in 2014, with about 75 percent coming from ads on iPhones and iPads.
Together, it seems clear that Apple holds a lot of negotiating power in its relationship with Google, a dynamic it can use to extract more favorable contract terms in the future.
So might Apple ever supplant Google search with a competing service like Bing or DuckDuckGo? At this point in time, it seems far from likely. Say what you will about Google, but the company does search better than anybody else, by a wide margin. To that end, it would hardly be encouraging if Apple sacrificed overall usability simply to twist the knife in Google just a little bit more. Additionally, it’s a safe bet that Google would be willing to pay a huge amount to maintain its status as the default search engine on iOS.
Nonetheless, Apple clearly isn’t shy about testing the waters; search on Siri, for instance, is powered by Microsoft’s Bing.