As mobile marketers develop and tend to their mobile strategies and day-to-day tactics, the tectonic plates upon which those strategies and tactics ride — mobile OSs and development platforms — will continue to collide, driving shifts in the marketplace which must be monitored.  One important subduction zone (where the plates meet and younger, less-dense rides over the top of  the other) according to some will be maps and mobile search. (FYI — I’m a native Californian, so earthquake-related metaphors come naturally.)

As noted in this WSJ story (subscription required),  Apple’s recent Maps problems have put it in the difficult strategic position of having to play catch-up to Google in the all-important race to monetize locations and location  information.

Having giants battle over a core technology can drive industry standards while providing healthy competitive alternatives for mobile markets.   But Apple’s in a position they haven’t often been in the past few years of having to follow somebody else in the development of what is sure to be a cornerstone of any successful device-software-service ecosystem: location.  With the Maps stumble, and the subsequent decision to allow an updated version of Google Maps into the Apple App Store, Apple might have assuaged its user base but the strategic cost was steep: the company is essentially back to where it was prior to launching their own mapping product — having their biggest ecosystem competitor controlling an all important app that drives significant revenue opportunities.

For Apple, the strategic calculus boils down to two key options.  First, continue to invest in building up Apple’s own Maps product to the point where it is competitive with Google which probably means  signficant financial and headcount investments.  Second, without using the word “cede”, Apple could cede the maps market to Google, and focusing on location-enabled apps and transaction “experiences” that can ride on top of any mapping infrastructure.

For mobile marketers, this particular fight between giants affects your native apps and/or browser-based app strategies  for the individual OSs (Android and iOS) and browsers (Chrome and Safari).  Over the long-term, assuming Apple continues to fight to establish its own location toolkit, it is likely to result in a few opportunities to play the two platforms off of each other in terms of pricing and terms of service for specific location-enabled campaigns or tactics.

To be sure, Apple must come up with an approach to maps and location-aware transactions that tells mobile marketers which of the two approaches ( mentioned in the previous ‘graph) the company is going to take.  I would argue for the latter — build transaction experiences that feed into the Apple ecosystem e.g. iTunes that ride on top of Google’s Map ecosystem.   Right now, mobile marketers need to see something clear, concise and compelling from Apple before they split off any of their location-enabled budgets from Google.

Are we placing too much emphasis on the importance of location? What do you think?


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