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Apple Charts a New Course on Mobile Maps

At its annual conference, Apple announced it will move away from Google with its own mapping app, along with new Mac and mobile software.
June 11, 2012

Users of Apple’s iPhone and iPad are getting a new mapping destination.

Apple has used Google Maps since the release of the first iPhone in 2007, but today the company announced that its own mapping app will be available in the fall as part of the newest version of its mobile operating software. Apple’s senior vice president of iOS software, Scott Forstall, showed off the app, along with a slew of features new to iOS 6, during the keynote presentation that kicked off Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The announcement was widely anticipated: Apple has purchased several mapping technology companies, and taking control of mapping could open new opportunities in location-based advertising. Reclaiming such an important app also lets the company assert its dominance over its own rapidly growing mobile platform while Google’s Android platform proliferates on a growing number of mobile devices.

The app, called simply Maps, was built entirely by Apple, Forstall said as he showed off colorful maps of countries including Italy, New Zealand, Singapore, and Norway.

Perhaps its most anticipated feature is Flyover, which allows users to see a crisp 3-D view of buildings. Forstall said Apple has been using planes and helicopters to capture the images necessary to build the 3-D models that appear on the map.

It’s not clear how many places Apple has mapped out so far; Forstall used his fingers to zoom in, out, and around San Francisco’s Transamerica Pyramid and the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Google previewed similar enhancements to its own 3-D mapping technology in a press event last week that seemed designed to preëmpt Apple’s move.

Apple’s app will also have turn-by-turn navigation, which has long been available on Android phones but absent from the iPhone. The feature, which includes anonymous, real-time, crowdsourced traffic data from iOS users, shows an estimated time of arrival based on traffic, and offers options for alternate routes that avoid traffic. You can ask Apple’s virtual helper, Siri, can for directions (or a gas station along the way to your destination, should the need arise).

Maps also has local search, which shows users business listings that include reviews and information from the review site Yelp.

It’s not clear whether Apple’s move to its own mapping app will have any impact on Google or Android. Ross Rubin, an analyst with the NPD Group, doesn’t think so, saying that Google’s business model for Android is different from Apple’s model for iOS. While the emergence of Apple’s Maps app closes off an opportunity for Google, there are still plenty of handsets on which it can roll out its services, he said.

Forstall showed off many other changes coming for iOS. For example, it will be integrated with Facebook, which will make it easier to share pictures and updates on the social network and see Facebook events on the iOS calendar app. The current version of iOS is already integrated with Twitter.

And Apple is making its first foray into the world of digital wallets with an upcoming app called Passbook, which collects electronic airline boarding passes, movie tickets, and more in one location. The app is smart enough to know where you are, so if you have a Starbucks card and you are near a Starbucks coffee shop, a notification will pop up on the phone. The app will also update in real time, so if the gate changes for your flight, you’ll receive a notification and the new gate number.

Also on Monday, Apple’s senior vice president of marketing, Phil Schiller, took to the stage to introduce updates to Apple’s MacBook lineup, including a MacBook Pro with the high-resolution “retina display” available on the iPad and iPhone. Apple says the display is so called because at a normal working distance, a user shouldn’t be able to distinguish individual pixels on the screen.

With a screen measuring 15.4 inches at the diagonal, the device will have nearly 5.2 million pixels—four times as many as the previous generation of MacBook Pros—and the highest notebook display resolution in the world, Schiller said.

Such high resolution should make images look exceptionally crisp. Schiller also said the display will have improved viewing angles, deeper blacks, and reduced glare.

At 0.71 inches thick, the notebook is nearly as thin as Apple’s MacBook Air and 25 percent thinner than the existing MacBook Pro. The notebook, which, like the Air, doesn’t include an optical drive, started shipping Monday at a base price of $2,199.

A new version of Apple’s computer operating software will go with the new Macs. Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering, explained that the newest version of OS X, called Mountain Lion, will include a dictation feature, so users can talk to their computer instead of typing, and features that make it easier to share images, videos, and links on social networks. There will also be a new version of Apple’s Safari browser, with improved search features and a feature called iCloud Tabs that will let users see all the tabs open on their various Apple devices (assuming they’re also running Mountain Lion or iOS 6).

Mountain Lion will be available as a download from the Mac App Store in July for $19.99.

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