There's been speculation for months that Apple will try to elbow Google's popular Maps app aside on the iPhone and unveil its own map app, and some of the best evidence yet comes from Tuesday's Wall Street Journal.
The paper looked into the reasons for the impending switch and the broader implications it would have for the smartphone market.
The speculation began last month when the website 9to5Mac cited "trusted sources" in reporting that Apple will replace Google Maps as the default map app in iOS6, the next version of its mobile operating system.
"The application design is said to be fairly similar to the current Google Maps program on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, but it is described as a much cleaner, faster, and more reliable experience," the website said.
Google Maps has been a mainstay of the iPhone since 2007, but the Journal says Apple's replacement plan was hatched years ago and accelerated when phones powered by Google's Android operating system overtook Apple in shipments. So Apple bought three companies, Placebase, C3 Technologies and Poly 9, which it used to create a mapping database.
The Journal reports that Apple could preview the new software as soon as next week at its annual developer conference in San Francisco. It cited "one person familiar with the plans."
In its May report, 9to5Mac said the Apple maps app will have a new 3-D tool.
"This 3D mode is said to essentially be technology straight from C3 Technologies: beautiful, realistic graphics based on de-classified missile target algorithms," the report said.
Jessica Vascellaro, one of the reporters who wrote the Journal story, told NPR's Audie Cornish that while Google will lose some revenue from the move, what's at stake goes beyond mapping applications.
"There's sort of a bigger pile of money at stake when you look at the broader smartphone battle and what phones people are buying," she said. "Because people today whether they're buying iPhones or phones that run Google's Android software, they want the coolest hardware but also, you know, the coolest apps. And if Google or Apple has a better map app, they're hoping that [they are] pulling users toward buying their phones and being sort of on their software platform.
"So it's really a broader battle about the billions of billions of dollars at stake in the smartphone industry."
The Journal's Vascellaro said the app will also turn your phone into an in-car GPS device, a feature already available in Android-powered phones.
"But I think where Apple is really going to try and differentiate is on sort of the vividness of the imagery and really 3-D imagery that pops on your screen, which is something we're not totally used to yet on mobile," she said.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Apple and Google may be competitors, but for years now, they've had a marriage of convenience when it comes to mobile phones. Apple's iPhone ships with Google's maps program as a default. That could change later this year when Apple is reportedly planning to dump the Google software and provide its own mapping program to iPhone users. Now, this might not matter much to you, as long as you can get from Point A to Point B. But in the tech industry it's another battleground in the future of the mobile market.
Here to talk more about it is Jessica Vascellaro of The Wall Street Journal. Hi there, Jessica.
JESSICA VASCELLARO: Hi, thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So to start, you are reporting that this effort of Apple to release its own mapping program began with its development of its own geo-coder. So, in a nutshell, what is that?
VASCELLARO: In a nutshell, the geo-coder is what translates your longitude and latitudes of the string of numbers that stay where you are into the addresses you see on the map or the parks or the landmarks that you actually see when you pull up your phone and look at your location.
CORNISH: So, Jessica, just how much money is at stake here? I mean, what will it mean for Google to lose access to Apple's mobile tech users?
VASCELLARO: It's a great question. I mean, Google for sure, or will lose some advertising revenue. And, you know, right now there are Google ads that show up when you're using the maps app on the iPhone. And when Apple replaces it and presumably those ads won't be there, and so that's some revenue Google missed out on, as well as some data about locations that Google can use for ad targeting in general.
But there's sort of a bigger pile of money at stake when you look at the broader smartphone battle and what phones people are buying. Because people today, if they're buying iPhones or phones that run Google's Android software, they want the coolest, you know, hardware, but also the coolest apps. And if Google or Apple has a better map app, they're hoping that that might pull users towards buying their phones and being sort of on their software platform.
So it's really a broader battle about the billions and billions of dollars at stake in the smartphone industry.
CORNISH: So is that billions and billions in the future or billions and billions they can lose right now?
VASCELLARO: I mean, today, it's already multibillion dollar market globally, but the forecasts are just expected to skyrocket. Smartphone penetration is really low, so both Apple and Google want to have a smartphone running their software in the hands of every consumer. And Google has recently purchased Motorola, so now it's on the hardware side, too, in making money from direct sales of hardware, as well.
CORNISH: What do we know about Apple's mapping program so far? I mean, what kind of features will it have that's different from what we're experiencing with the Google program?
VASCELLARO: Well, what we know is that it's actually been a huge effort for Apple to just sort of match Google, in the sense of being able to offer all the coverage all around the world of, you know, imagery and including we expect sort of 3D imagery. And that's something that Google has to some degree and that we expect Apple's app will have as well.
Another feature Apple has been working on, which Google offers and is very popular, sort of turns your phone into an in-car GPS device. So it will talk to you so you don't have to look down at it as you're driving. And we know that Apple has been working on that too.
But I think where Apple is really going to try to differentiate is on sort of the vividness of the imagery and really 3D imageries that pops on your screen, which is something we're not totally used to yet on mobile. We're, you know, mostly using those line diagrams. And I think that's a big opening Apple sees.
CORNISH: Well, Jessica, thank you for explaining it to us.
VASCELLARO: Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: Jessica Vascellaro of The Wall Street Journal, she spoke to us about the escalating competition between Google and Apple in the mobile maps market. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.