On Monday, June 11, in addition to new laptop models, Apple (AAPL) announced some changes to its iOS mobile operating system that will be included in iOS6. These changes are not merely improvements, but also direct attacks in its ongoing war with Google (GOOG) over establishing mobile dominance. These new advancements should help Apple keep its strong position in this ongoing battle.
In particular, Apple announced a change in its mobile mapping service. Going forward, Apple will use its own mapping technologies that were designed specifically for Apple's products, and will discontinue the iPhone's prior integration of Google Maps into its iOS. Additionally, Apple reported that it has improved the search capabilities of Siri, Apple's digital assistant program, which should allow Siri to provide more responses that the older version would have merely sent to a Google search. Moreover, Apple incorporated a proprietary search box into its Safari browser.
Of course, Apple doesn't just make these additions to attack competing companies. Constantly enhancing the user experience is a large part of how Apple keeps so many of its users loyal to its expanding product line. Nonetheless, apparently Apple has been working on its mapping service for years, so it must have never been too happy about using Google's technology, rather had to out of necessity.
Google recently announced additional features to its mapping services, but only through Google Earth on a computer. Apple's closed system allows it to more easily overhaul its iOS ecosystem, while Google's Android must deal with multiple hardware makers using slightly different designs. This difference could make Android slower to evolve, at least in the short-term, so long as its evolution continues to come through Google and not its hardware makers.
This map change may sound somewhat irrelevant to most phone users, but approximately one out of every two Google Map searches comes from an Apple device, with a large portion of those searches originating through a device running the iOS. Further, given the present war between these technology powerhouses, it could be expected that Apple may eventually also integrate its mapping technology into its Safari browser and Mac OS, only further reducing the volume of map searches made through Google.
This is of major concern because it not only minimizes Google's opportunities to monetize each search with ads, but could also reduce the quality of service that Google Maps provides. Google uses data from mobile searches to not only improve its mapping service, but also to provide integrated features such as real-time traffic updating.
Apple's map service includes three-dimensional images, real-time traffic updates and turn-by-turn navigation. Turn-by-turn navigation is one feature that most Android phones already had, but which was not innately available on an iPhone. Many may have wondered why Apple was so late to add this seemingly core feature, and it is entirely possible that Apple was reluctant to add more qualities to the iOS that would be dependent upon Google's technology, for fear that they could be taken away.
As for Siri, beyond improving its search capabilities, Apple also expanded the application into the iPad, with the service likely to eventually be found on all Apple products. Beyond adding the service to an additional device, Apple also reported that it has improved the quality of Siri's responses by addressing several categories of commonly asked questions for which Siri previously had no proper responses. Examples of such categories include movies, sports and restaurants.
Apple also announced that it partnered with multiple other tech companies to improve Siri. An example would be OpenTable (OPEN), where Siri will now be able to make or change a reservation for you through your already existing OpenTable account. Siri is also integrated into the new mapping service, or, rather, the mapping service is also integrated into Siri. Other integrated information will be offered through IMDB, Yelp (YELP), Fandango, SB Nation and Rotten Tomatoes.
Apple also found a new ally in the leading social network, Facebook (FB), which is entangled in its own war with Google for social networking supremacy. Through Siri, an iOS user will be able to post photos or their location to Facebook with voice commands. Facebook also recently integrated its social network into Microsoft's Bing search service, making the network a clear ally for Apple in its current war with Google, at least for now.
Apple also has a new app for the iPhone and iPad called Passbook, which is designed to organize various types of tickets and loyalty cards. This app can be seen as a precursor to a Google Wallet type service. This initial salvo will test the technology and allow users to become more comfortable with its use and security, while a future version is likely to expand to include electronic payments though securely held account information.
Despite these recent improvements to the iOS, it is far too early to declare Google out. The Android OS has several powerful hardware developers on its side, including Samsung (SSNLF.PK), whose smartphones and tablets often win critic and techie approval over iPhones, and Amazon (AMZN), whose Kindle Fire has found success due to its comparably low price and Amazon Marketplace expertise, where it can monetize its tablet through future content-based sales.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.