With little more than a week to go before Apple is expected to unveil its highly anticipated iPhone 5, users are getting used to the idea that their much coveted device will be ‘Google-free’. Since its incarnation way back in 2007, the iPhone’s core functionality revolved around three Google components – web search, YouTube and Google Maps.
At the launch of the original iPhone, Steve Jobs invited former Google CEO Eric Schmidt on stage. Even then, Schmidt had a seat on Apple’s board from 2006 to 2009 and an air of mutual respect, friendship and cooperation seemed to exist between the two companies.
Its 2012 and things have changed radically. Apple and Google are at each other’s throats over a whole host of patent claims. It’s difficult to tell when the falling out actually did occur, but all signs point to one event which drove Steve Jobs over the precipice.
According to Walter Isaacson, Jobs’s official biographer, the late Apple founder swore to destroy Google’s Android operating system back in 2010. In January of that year, HTC introduced a handset running Android, and Jobs strongly believed this technology was blatantly copied from Apple. According to Isaacson’s account, he affirmed that: “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40bn in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
Even after Job’s passing, Apple has continued waging war against Android and companies manufacturing handsets, including Samsung and HTC. Telecommunication statistics show that Android handsets are heavily outselling iPhones, illustrating that Apple still has a long way to go. Part of that strategy appears to involve the removal of those stalwart Google programs from the next generation of the iPhone’s operating system.
The first hint of this shift surfaced in June, when Apple confirmed that it would dump Google Maps from iOS 6 and replace it with a new mapping program. It appears to source its data from TomTom and will be released under Apple’s name. The Verge reported on a further development at the start of August when it emerged that Apple was abandoning the long-standard YouTube App in iOS 6. With two of the three core Google components removed, it seems that Apple is on course to carry out an ‘Appleisation’ of its iPhone. Nevertheless, it has been confirmed that a standalone version of the YouTube app will be available in the App Store, and the website will be fully functional through the iPhone’s Safari browser.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Google Maps. It is unclear as to whether Google Maps will resurface in the App Store, as it may well duplicate the iPhone’s newfound mapping software. Even though Apple’s new mapping program is said to be comprehensive and intuitive, how does it compare to Google’s? Right now, early versions of Apple’s mapping program appear bare in comparison to the ubiquitous and mature Google Maps. It does look clean, crisp and efficient, but sadly seems devoid of useful information.
A good mapping program takes time to develop and Apple will be keenly aware of this, especially in relation to Street View, a controversial yet spectacular feature offered by Google. This isn’t available to Apple right now, and with Google’s cars painstakingly photographing streets for the last number of years, it appears Google Maps will stay ahead of Apple’s maps for some time to come.
In terms of the removal of the YouTube app, this has been discussed at length online. However, nobody seems to know the exact reason for the move. Some have suggested the obvious reason might be that this is Apple’s way of dealing with a major competitor in the mobile market. Others have ventured that it may also prove beneficial to Google, who were able to upgrade YouTube on other platforms. A vital fact is also that YouTube on Apple handsets was not monetised, meaning it was not bringing in lucrative advertising revenue. With the launch and support of a stand alone app, this process can be incorporated, yielding increased earnings.
The search function is perhaps the most important element of the discussion. Even though there is a wide choice of search engines available for iPhone users including Bing and Yahoo, Google is included by default, a privilege said to cost $1 billion annually. The default search engine is vital – if Google was removed and replaced with Bing, it would lose untold millions of users. So basically, the ball is in Apple’s court on this one. Google makes billions of dollars through searches on iOS devices and Apple may well come to the conclusion that they do not need Google’s money. Expected to bring in over $100 billion this year, depending on the iPhone 5’s introduction, it is plain to see that $1 billion or $10 billion isn’t appealing to Apple. They might just be content to rid their devices of their nemesis, sit back and watch their user base expand even further.
So as of yet, the iPhone is not entirely ‘Google-free’, but almost. Two out of three core functions will be eliminated, while the third and most important one is dangling precariously above the danger zone. Hardcore users of Google Maps will miss exciting features like Street View, and it remains to be seen if this market segment moves over to advanced Android operating systems. Much depends on whether or not Google Maps makes it into the App Store.
This will of course be the case with YouTube, so very few things will change, save perhaps an improved experience for the user. The search function is vital to Google and Apple, but is it vital to the user? The concept of ‘googling’ is so well established that users may reject a change to Bing and Yahoo immediately. However, the monetary stakes for the companies involved couldn’t be higher.
The months following the new iPhone’s introduction are going to prove very interesting indeed.