If you're a user of Apple's mobile devices, you're sure to notice a lot of new things if and when you decide to update the operating system to iOS 6, which was announced today at Apple's World Wide Developers Conference. There's one particular app icon that, while largely unchanged for the past five years, will appear noticeably different this time around: Maps. The icon has been modified slightly, sporting a new blue circle with a white arrow inside instead of the commonly recognized red pin indicative of Google Maps. However, the appearance of the app's icon isn't the only change as users will now be accessing a completely new mapping service exclusive to iOS the next time they search for a location or generate some directions.
And yes, that means that the long-standing partnership between Apple's iOS and Google, or more specifically, Google Maps, is officially kaput.
With everything from leaked images of Apple maps (mApples?) to Apple's steady acquisition of a map-making companies, the separation of the two companies has been the tech industry's worst kept secret and so should largely come as little to no surprise if you've been following the build-up to today's conference.
The new iOS mapping service will come with a host of features that have become commonplace with geo-location services, such as real-time traffic updates and any upcoming traffic delays on your route. Beyond the standard array of features, Apple added 100 million different Yelp listings for businesses as well as a slick turn-by-turn navigation not unlike what MapQuest has been offering with its direction service. The biggest Oooh-and-Aaah feature with Apple's new Maps feature is by far the 3D renderings that are fully navigable and offer up insanely detailed pictures (dangerously detailed, some would say). Here it is in Apple's own words:
iOS 6 includes an all new Maps app with vector-based map elements that make graphics and text smooth, and panning, tilting and zooming incredibly fluid. New turn-by-turn navigation guides you to your destination with spoken directions, and the amazing Flyover feature has photo-realistic interactive 3D views. Real-time traffic information keeps you updated on how long it will take to get to your destination and offers alternate time-saving routes if traffic conditions change significantly. Additionally, local search includes information for over 100 million businesses with info cards that offer Yelp ratings, reviews, available deals and photos.
If the hi-res 3D map feature sounds vaguely familiar, that's because Google Maps beat Apple to the punch last week by announcing its own upgrade to a brand new generation of 3D maps. The timing of Google's announcement was likely highly intentional, and rightly so: Google got a whiff of what Apple had planned just like the rest of us and, instead of getting de-pantsed this afternoon by having to react, Google went on offense and stole some of the thunder Apple's Maps announcement would surely have delivered.
Yet now with Siri, Yelp-powered local search, and its very own geo service, Apple doesn't seem to be too bashful anymore about its intentions to carve out a piece of the online search market for itself. There's even speculation that Apple could eventually introduce map-specific apps for its new geo service, which could open up a whole new avenue of specialized search as well as a potential source of revenue from advertising, although Apple hasn't said one way or another if the new Maps will contain ads. Since this new, bold direction of Apple's is barely an hour old at this point and don't be surprised if Apple wastes little time pushing out improvements and new features to try to hack into Google Maps' market.
If Apple's new Maps feature begins to be received as a success, it might even show up in a desktop/website version sometime in the future. Given the new MacBook Pro's fancy new Retina display, Apple couldn't be faulted for wanting to show off its new 3D map imagery on its very best displays.