Both companies still rely on cars and vans to roam the streets
Google Maps has the advantage of being around a lot longer than Apple Maps (11 years versus 4). Indeed, it was the default web mapping service for Apple users until iOS 6 debuted. And Google Maps has retained its lead, despite the availability of a native service for iOS users since 2014: On smartphones in the US last year, Google had 87.8 million unique users versus Apple’s 46.4 million.
This is not entirely due to longevity, though. Google Maps has additional useful features its competitor lacks, especially for traffic viewing and public transportation. And part of Google’s dominance also has to do with the teething troubles Apple Maps faced when it first came out in 2012, troubles Google Maps has largely overcome. Complaints about inaccuracy dogged the Apple Maps rollout, but since then these problems have been corrected. That has not been enough, though, to dislodge Google from its global reach of 1 billion monthly users worldwide.
As both companies continue to innovate new features, they still rely heavily on ground vehicles to capture and update map data. Now, though, technology has advanced enough that Apple is hoping to try pulling ahead of its longtime rival by sending in the drones.
Bloomberg reports that Apple is hoping to make widespread use of UAVs to provide faster updates and closer to real-time monitoring for drivers. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already granted permission for it to do so, though new laws on commercial drone usage may force it to downgrade some expectations.
Apple will not be building its own drones to do this, instead relying on existing models sold by other companies like DJI.
Beyond the drone fleet, which is still a ways off, Apple Maps intends to compete meter for meter with Google by further developing live traffic features, integration with outside apps, mass transit directions, and indoor mapping, the latter of which it has been building up since 2013. (A selling point for the Apple Maps update on iOS 10 was that Apply Pay, Uber, and OpenTable all worked in concert with the platform to offer a complete night-out experience.)
There is even further potential for this sort of mapping, as illustrated by projects from startups like AirMap, which promises Waze-like functionality and hyperlocal map data for drone operators, as well as efforts to give drones “computer vision” where they can find addresses more reliably. As Justin O’Beirne has written, Google Maps and Apple Maps aren’t just apps—they’re also platforms. And as platforms, they’re actually inside of many of these other apps, so ease of use and accuracy on the platforms will be very important in deciding who the “winner” eventually is in this contest, which still heavily favors Google.