Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Apple’s new Maps: Great eye candy, but you can’t take it with you (no offline maps).

MIT Tech Review story >>

Without offline maps, imagine the mobile bandwidth crunch during rush-hour traffic in iPhone-heavy markets like San Fran and Stockholm.

As part of Apple’s iOS 6 announcement yesterday came some expected news of a new Maps application. As expected, Apple turned away from Google for its mapping data. As a replacement, Apple is using mapping data from TomTom/Tele Atlas. While the business model behind the switch wasn’t disclosed, it’s easy to think ahead a bit and imagine an ads-on-maps revenue sharing model.

OpenStreetMap could be one of the losers in this game of maps chess. OpenStreetMap received a great deal of publicity from Apple’s use of OSM map data.

Apple be will be offering some smooth features in Maps in iOS 6 including turn-by-turn navigation, crowd-sourced live traffic feeds, 3D mode, and voice UI via Siri.

All-in-all, Apple is rolling out some fancy navigation features in iOS6. But, unless I have completely missed something, maps cannot be downloaded for offline use. This means users will have to stream map data along the way, eating up data, taking bites out of data plans. For users roaming outside of their home countries, this can lead to some phone-bill sticker shock upon their return.

When it comes to offline maps, searching, and navigation, Nokia still leads the way with Google chipping away with incremental offline features.

Enabling offline maps for navigation could conflict with Apple’s business plans: requiring live map streaming creates a much more fertile environment for up-to-the-moment, location-based interactions. But for the consumer and operator, this can be very costly under some circumstances.

Apple’s competitors here would be wise to drive home the potential costs of this model. For mobile customers under more limited data plans or for those who roam often (which is more common in Europe), navigation could be very costly with Apple. And for operators already struggling with spectrum shortages, potential rush-hour bandwidth crunches could be another reason to thrown more support behind other mobile platforms.

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