An article in Bloomberg appearing just after the announcement of Apple Maps for iOS 6 last week asserted that Apple will come to market with more business listings than Google:
This is a worldwide effort,” said Forstall, who’s in charge of iPhone software. “You have to be able to find businesses and points of interest. And so we’ve already ingested more than 100 million business listings around the world to make a great local search.”
Google has 80 million local business listings available in its mapping software and search engines, a spokeswoman for the company told Bloomberg.
One hundred million vs. 80 million: but what about the quality of those listings? The local data business is very hard and it’s often a big mess. Just ask any of the companies in the segment.
Apple is relying on a number of partners, most notably TomTom (TeleAtlas) and Localeze, for local POI and business listings data. However there are numerous other data partners involved.
Google has been dealing with the local data/business listings mess now for years. It arguably captures more local data from more sources than anyone and its data are still far from perfect. As an aside, YP.com and Google were found to be the top two most comprehensive local sites in the US by Implied Intelligence in a recent study. (More on that later.)
If Apple succeeds in becoming a major player in local search, which could happen literally overnight, then marketers, brands and local businesses will all be seeking a way in. They’ll want ways to claim, correct and enhance profiles. Yet Apple is likely to remain a black box. The company will probably rely on partners and third parties to monitor and maintain data quality rather than open a direct channel itself.
Yet it would be beneficial for local businesses and for users to enable some sort of direct access and crowd feedback — allowing businesses to claim and update their listings, while enabling users to identify incorrect listings and other errors.
If Apple were to recognize the value in that more direct approach the company would have to get its hands dirty and create a team to deal with the craziness that is local business data. In the meantime, all the conventional rules about data hygiene and local syndication would appear to apply albeit with new emphasis on Localeze.
Finally, local marketers will be clamoring for advertising and sponsorship opportunities from Apple. The company doesn’t really care that much about advertising it appears; iAd seems to be fading. So it’s unlikely that we’ll see much in the way of sponsored listings opportunities — at least not in the immediate term.
Without knowing much about the backend here it may be the case that Apple has had to build what amounts to a local index of content to be able to serve business listings on the map or otherwise through Siri. If that’s so it’s very interesting in terms of the company’s competition with Google and its potential impact on others in the local space. (I think many publishers are underestimating how impactful Apple could be in local.)
It’s going to be fascinating to see how good Apple Maps are when iOS 6 hits general release “in the Fall.” Then we’ll have a real opportunity to compare it to Google Maps.