Back in June at Apple's (AAPL) World Wide Developers Conference, Apple announced a large list of features for its new operating system iOS 6. One of the features announced was a new mapping protocol that would replace Google's (GOOG) Map program as the default map.
Recently Google struck back by updating its own map client for Android devices exclusively. On a side note Google maintained at the time iOS devices would see Google Maps reappear in Apple's App store. The new update includes transit directions for more than 1 million stations worldwide. Google has stored transit data for some time along with street view, both features Apple has yet to adopt in its own map application. The move was seen as an effort to show Google's advantages over the iPhone, ahead of the iOS 6 launch. In large urban cities where cars are not the best form of transportation, Google may play an advantage in this arena.
Apple recently struck back by removing the Youtube app from the iPhone's default app list. The company stated that fans of Youtube will still be able to use the new App store version.
One wonders, though, if Google could stage an elaborate hostile takeover of the mapping application anyway? I know the idea is far-fetched given that any successful attempt would almost certainly be banned from the App Store; I'm sure the negative publicity would land Apple in the hot seat again.
The move would not be the first time Apple was outdone by a rival on its own platform. Amazon (AMZN) launched their Kindle reader for the iPad, and still maintains its lead with an expected 50 percent share of the overall book publishing industry.
So it's not completely impossible but given Apple's feelings towards Google, unlikely. But with the new iOS 6 developers can allow for apps to prompt the launch of another app, and default to a section or page. Say for example I am in Apple's Maps app and I click on a Yelp review, rather than launching the Yelp app straight into the app home screen, the program would take me to that review page instead.
This would be a great way for Google to stage an offensive. They could in theory require that Google Plus open Apps only in Google Maps, and if the app was not installed prompt users to download it. The move is likely to confuse potential non tech savvy users and might give Apple enough ammunition to justifiably use the kill switch button, but it would be so cool. Imagine Google maintaining a share of around 40 percent of the iPhone's map?
It sounds crazy but as the default search engine on iOS 6, Google could then require that all address links be sent directly to the Google Maps app. It's not unreasonable that Google would require something along these lines, especially if street view was built as a html 5 web based app.
Now let's make it complicated. Suppose Microsoft (MSFT) wanted in on this Map game. It could ask Facebook which defaults to Bing maps (on desktops), to prompt users to download Bing Maps. Then we would have a three-way battle for Map App dominance.
Another angle would be to build everything out using HTML 5, which was actually something Steve Jobs would have preferred originally. With HTML 5 a new system of interconnected maps could exist the same way Openfeint does, running on iOS and Android platforms for gaming stats. Still HTML 5 applications seem a world away, when Facebook can launch a native app and have it run lightning fast compared with the old HTML 5 app.
With a range of possibilities, I think at the end of the day one can hope for an all-out melee of a battle on each other's platforms as Apple would never battle on Android territory. They tried that and they lost, remember Safari for Windows? You could argue in defense of iTunes for PC but that actually was heavily linked to a physical piece of hardware that people had to own.
Investors should be mindful of these scenarios as they could play out in either extended or compacted form. If Google stages a successful offensive against Apple then it could recapture ad revenues, and maintain market dominance. This market dominance would protect Google business listings from competing sites like Yelp (YELP) which also sells pay per click ads for small business owners. Yelp was chosen by Apple as the default business listing directory for its own Map application. If Google maintains a lead it could also delay or restrict features on iOS platforms, while allowing them immediately on Android devices, encouraging consumers in the Google ecosystem to switch.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.