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Apple Jab at Google Likely at WWDC

A switch from Google Maps to Apple's own app at next week's developers conference could ramp up the rivalry for services on mobile devices.

Apple is expected to reveal its homegrown replacement for the Google Maps application, built into iOS 6, as the highlights of the Worldwide Developers Conference opening Monday. (Follow it live with our WWDC Keynote live blog.)

Attendees are also likely to get a peek at that next-generation iOS, which will reportedly launch in the fall for select devices, including a brand new iPhone handset.

Apple's anticipated break from Google Maps would be yet another sign of the growing battle between Apple and Google for domination in the mobile space.

Since the original iPhone was introduced in 2007, Google Maps has supplied the iPhone's built-in mapping and location capabilities. But Apple is reportedly looking to control its own mapping functions as location-based services and features become baked into more mobile apps.

Evidence of the growing importance of location services is all over the App Store. Popular social applications such as Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter let users share their location with friends. Google's iOS search app uses location to improve local search results, and mobile ad networks rely on location to deliver relevant advertising.

Location on the iPhone is big and promises to get bigger as people increasingly consult their smartphones for local restaurant reviews, finding the nearest car mechanic, tourism tips, and movie times.

Map Building

Apple is wary of leaving such a key component for the iPhone in the hands of one of its biggest rivals and getting ready to dump Google Maps, The Wall Street Journal reports. Over the past three years Apple has purchased three mapping companies: Placebase, Poly9, and C3 Technologies.  Apple in 2010 also revealed in a letter to Congress that it was working on a traffic conditions service for the iPhone -- something Google Maps already offers Android users.

Apple in fall 2011 replaced the iPhone's Google-made geocoder -- a piece of software that turns longitude and latitude into a point on a map -- with its own technology, according to the Journal.

Then, in early 2012, the first fruits of Apple's homegrown map effort turned up in iPhoto for iOS.

What Will Google Do?

As for Google, critics believe it suffer if its business relationship with Apple disintegrates. Many Apple watchers believe the iPhone maker is trying to wean its mobile users off other Google services in iOS. Apple's digital voice assistant, Siri, for example could encourage more people to give up using Google search -- the default search engine for the Safari browser on iOS. Siri can supply data from a variety of sources such as Yelp for local information and Wolfram Alpha for facts and figures.

The majority of Google's mobile traffic comes from the iPhone, the Journal reports. So if fewer iPhone users turn to Google for information, that means the search giant will see less potential ad revenue and user data from mobile users, an ever-expanding user base hungry for online information.

One thing that Apple probably won't, or at least can't, replace is the iOS app for Google-owned YouTube. There simply isn't a credible replacement for the most popular video site on the Web.

Will You Switch?

But will iPhone users accept Apple's homegrown alternative? Google Maps is very popular thanks to features such as Place Pages with local business information and Street View's immersive 360-degree photos of locations around the world.

And Google Maps promises to only get better. Google on Wednesday revealed new improvements to Google Maps including 3D flyovers and offline maps access. Google Maps will also be getting more Street View images using a special camera that can be carried by a person on foot, adding to Google's existing Street View images taken by a fleet of cars and special tricycles.

If Apple does dump Google Maps, the company may also choose not to make a lot of noise about it. Apple may opt instead to discuss potential new features of the iOS Maps app or perhaps a new look, while avoiding issues surrounding its business relationship with Google.

Regardless, many critics and pundits will be waiting to see if Apple on Monday offers a glimpse of what the Maps application will look like in the next version of iOS.

Want to see what Apple has in store at this year's WWDC? Follow along with PCWorld's liveblog of the event starting at 10 a.m. on the West Coast. Be sure to check back after the event as well for news, commentary, and analysis dissecting every announcement Apple makes during WWDC 2012.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) on Twitter and Google+, and with Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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