Google preparing to counter Apple's onslaught
If new map features are anything to go by, Google is preparing to bounce back from Apple’s throw out. So, when it comes to few products concerning its rivals, Apple, it seems, wants to match ‘apple with apple’.
More accurately, it wants to draw a line to indicate where or how the competition lies so far as smartphones are concerned.
It was therefore not a surprise when it chucked out Google Maps and decided to come up with its own map with turn-by-turn navigation and features that would no doubt prove more eye-catching.
Having been in the business for quite a while before Apple reinvented itself as the hot brand for smartphones, Google may be planning to provide a fitting response, which it may already have done last week in India.
Known to release new features to many of its products for India, it wasn’t exactly a surprise when the Internet company announced voice-guided navigations to its Google Maps products for India along with live traffic information for six of the major cities (Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Pune and Delhi), but the fact that it released the former exclusively for Android phones and runs the latter from the data gathered from Android phone users are indications that it is shoring up the defences before the iPhone 5 blitz hits the market.
While recent data indicate that Android phones have taken a slight beating in the market share in US, particularly after Apple had won its patent cases against its major rival Samsung, places like India, where scores of low cost phone makers have started to glut the market with smartphones, Google seems to have sensed an opportunity for consolidation.
“We’ve grown 600 per cent year on year in the (global) smartphone market,” Google’s product manager Darren Baker told journalists last week while unveiling Google Maps Navigation and live traffic information services for India.
“India remains a major market for us since the country now has 120 million Internet users and about 70 million hooking up to the world wide web on smartphones.
Products like maps have also been popular here ever since we have introduced it here about five years ago, so, naturally, we have responded with investments in terms of technology,” he said, reiterating Google’s ability to create products that could easily engage with end users.
“We collect data through crowd-sourcing methods from the Android users who have agreed to share location details anonymously, through which we are able to provide traffic details on major city roads. We use colour schemes to indicate smooth flow of traffic (green), minor slowdowns (yellow) and major congestions (red). This information is available on Google Maps on any smartphone,” he said.
Linking information on local businesses which gets showed on the navigation service and the ability to search either by typing in the place or speaking it out (voice search) have added different dimensions to the navigation tool, as does the traffic information which would allow the user to sidestep bottlenecks.
Baker said this is a compelling product for advertisers, especially in the context of growing smartphones: “We would continue to post ads with based on location and other contextual information. We would ensure these are relevant to the individual users.”
If this works out, Google, unlike Facebook, knows precisely how to leverage the growing user base on its maps; at least one billion people globally visit Google Maps once a month.
These services work on phones running on Android 2.2 and above, which is present in almost all phones used in India that cost as low as Rs 4,500. Having a fully functional map and traffic information –all for free—at that price is too compelling for anyone thinking about buying a smartphone.
Available for nearly two years now, maps are not going to make a difference in smartphone sales in the US, but it could still count in India, which has Micromax, Lava, iBall amongst the bunch of others providing cheaper smartphones. Add Nexus 7 to the bunch of tablet PCs and probably we will see where the consolidation would help Google more.
“We’ve heard about Apple’s statements about (having) similar navigation feature in iOS 6,” Baker said. “We introduce new features depending on user requirements and for enhancing experience rather than to gain competitive advantage, but competition will be good for end users.”
That could well be true, but Google is ensuring, at least in countries like India, it has dominant market share than any of its rivals. In reality, they are a long way off.