Apple and Google have always been an unlikely pair, competing fiercely in the smartphone arena while sharing some technology that makes those smartphones work. That marriage of convenience may not be long for this world.
The fanboy blogs are starting to buzz with rumors that Apple is preparing to ditch Google Maps for the imminent launch of iOS 6. Some of 9to5 Mac's "trusted sources" claim that Apple's developers are putting the finishing touches on a cleaner, faster, native Maps app that will offer more sophisticated features, including a mind-bending 3D view. Apple's already started the process. A couple of months ago, it unveiled a new version of iPhoto for iPhone and iPad that used OpenStreetMap instead of Google Maps.
The move to an in-house maps product wouldn't be a huge surprise in light of some of Apple's recent acquisitions. In 2009, Apple bought the startup Placebase which made a Google Maps equivalent and offered the capability to drop pins on the map. A year later, the company purchased Poly9, makers of a Google Earth-like product with an API used by folks like Skype and NORAD. Last year, Apple acquired C3 Technologies, a company that builds 3D maps with, to quote 9to5 Mac, "beautiful, realistic graphics based on de-classified missile target algorithms." This C3 Technologies produced view of the Hoover Dam shows just how realistic the results will be:
So, if Apple can produce a better maps product in-house, what's kept them dependent on Google for so long? Convenience and money. Google Maps has a robust API that's used by a lot of other applications and updated at an impressive rate. By depending on Google, Apple gets to skip the maintenance costs, and the maps are also better integrated with the phone's search features. Every time you use the Google field in the mobile Safari app, the search giant also pays Apple a little bit of money. There are signs that Apple's moving away from Google search as well, however. Siri, for instance, doesn't use Google for searches: She depends on Wolfram Alpha.
Speculation over Apple dumping Google Maps falls in line with the larger narrative of iOS devices competing more fiercely with Android. The latest rumor from iPad-ville (this via The Daily Mail) is that Apple will release a smaller, 7-inch iPad for $200 to $250 aimed directly at Android devices. Of course, nobody really knows what Apple is going to release until the company pulls back the curtain. Once they do, we may see if it's still wearing Google's ring.