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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Apple Seperates from Google, Makes Own Maps

Story first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

Apple Inc. unveiled a series of software features for its mobile phones and computers Monday that place erstwhile partner Google Inc. squarely in its path.

Speaking at the company's annual developer conference in San Francisco, the Apple chief and other executives revealed no major surprises to its product line as some attendees had hoped. But Apple did show off a number of new software programs that as a whole underscore how the company is distancing itself from Google.

Among the software products are a new mapping and navigation service that will replace Google Maps as the default on iPhones and iPads. Apple executives also bragged about the comprehensiveness of their local search service, which is integrated with its voice activated "virtual assistant" Siri. And the company struck a long-negotiated deal with Google rival Facebook Inc. to integrate various services.

In several places during the nearly two-hour keynote, Apple's senior vice president for iOS software referred to areas where the mobile software called iOS outperformed Google's Android software, such as user satisfaction.

More than 75% of Apple customers checked the top box, very satisfied, compared to less than 50% for the competition. Even Siri, who welcomed the crowd with a light-hearted video intro, took aim. Among her first jokes was a jab at Android's different version names, which are desserts. "Hey, any of you guys been working with Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean? Who's been making up these code names, Ben and Jerry?" she said.

A Google spokeswoman didn't comment on overall competition with Apple, but the company said in a statement it had been working on maps for years and is looking forward to continuing to build the perfect map for our users in the months and years ahead.

With the iPhone accounting for 58% percent of Apple's revenue in the quarter ending in March, Apple is in a constant race to update its operating system to beat back the growth of phones running Android.

Those devices accounted for 59% of global smartphone shipments in the first quarter, according to IDC, compared with the iPhone's 23%. Both are up from 36.1% and 18.3% the year-ago quarter respectively, as rivals like Nokia Corp. and Research In Motion Ltd. have struggled.

The keynote presentation at times resembled a sporting event. Attendees cheered in response to new technical features, such as higher-resolution displays and more memory on new MacBook Pro laptops, along with little tweaks like a feature for iPhones that lets people use the Facetime video chat service on cellular networks.

But many moves could challenge Google, analysts say, even though Google remains the default search provider on iPads and iPhones. The mapping service and enhancements to Siri indicate a clear and present danger to Google's search and ad business.

Developers, about 5,000 of which paid $1,599 for tickets, said they were excited to try many of the new mobile software features—particularly the new mapping application. The service, which Apple has been developing for years, has a mode for viewing areas in three-dimensions, along with a local search service and turn-by-turn driving directions for in-car use.

Apple also moved to address issues that nag consumers, adding a "Do Not Disturb" feature to avoid unwanted messages at night. A new app called Passbook organizes loyalty cards, tickets and boarding passes to display the right card when needed. Users can also scan their phone to use a coupon, prompting speculation that the service was a placeholder for a future payments product.

Apple said its new version of its "virtual assistant" Siri, which has been criticized as incomplete, contains more local business information, supports more languages and integrates with its new mapping app. The company will also be bringing the Siri feature to the iPad for the first time with iOS 6, which will be released this fall.

Apple also unveiled a partnership with Facebook to better integrate the social network into its mobile and Mac operating systems— a deal that had been hotly negotiated for more than a year, according to people familiar with the matter. Users will be able to sync their Facebook contacts and calendar events across Apple devices and to more easily post to and log into their apps from Facebook.

There were few surprises that hadn't been touched upon in press reports and industry speculation. Some Apple watchers were left wanting more, particularly around the company's future plans for software and apps on televisions.

An ISI Group analyst said he was "disappointed" there wasn't more news on that front. But it was positive overall, he said, noting that Apple's innovations for both hardware and software still place it above its competitors.

Apple executives didn't discuss Apple's $99 box for watching Internet content on TVs—a product that the CEO has hinted that the company intends to evolve over time.

Instead, the company devoted much of the keynote to the software that runs inside its computers and mobile phones.

The vice president for the Mac software business, showed off an array of features of its previously announced new computer operating system, Mountain Lion, and said it would be available next month for $19.99.

A new, higher-end model of the MacBook Pro laptop—which along with the high-resolution display is 25% thinner and uses faster chips that other models—was a highlight of the event. That new model starts at $2,199. Apple also updated less-expensive laptops, introducing faster versions of the MacBook Air and existing MacBook Pro lines.

The founder of App Cubby, which makes an array of iPhone apps, says he was impressed with the computer's speed and memory specifications. He said that the keynote, the fourth he had attended at the annual developer event, was slightly disappointing, since he had been hoping the company would unveil a new way to manage how apps notify customers about various things, such as a new message or a piece of news.

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