At Apple's annual developer conference, the Cupertino, California-based company said it would roll out public transit information to its Maps application for more than 10 cities worldwide, and 300 cities in China. Most consumers will likely shrug off the improvement, given that Google Maps already makes this feature available for 18,000 cities. However, for small business owners, this represents an incredible step forward for Apple and its Maps app.
Apple has been widely criticized for the inaccurate information and shoddy design of its Maps app, especially compared to Google's industry-standard Maps app. Apple CEO Tim Cook was forced to make a public apology in 2013 for the disastrous Maps app that came with iOS 6.
But despite this perceived inferiority to Google Maps, Apple still has a healthy user base. Apple says there are more than five billion requests coming to Maps each week. Forty-two million of Maps users are based in the US, compared with Google's 65 million US users. For small and local businesses, this group of 42 million users represents an incredible opportunity that can't be ignored.
What's new with Apple Maps
At its developer conference, Apple announced it would add an icon in the Maps app that indicates whether or not businesses that appear within search results provide support for Apple Pay. Although this is a simple feature that ultimately serves Apple better than it does the consumer or business, the chance to acquire new business from Apple Pay users could be beneficial to some organizations, especially smaller retailers, restaurants and bars.
Additionally, Apple said it would enable users to search the Maps app by storefront type (i.e. Food, Drink, etc.). Today, users can search by entering the type of storefront they want and then by scrolling through a list of locations. However, Apple doesn't hand-select types of venues and then offer them to consumers. This feature should help to improve serendipitous interactions with local businesses for consumers who don't have a specific type of food or item in mind prior to making a search.
Google's "Explore Nearby" feature is strikingly similar to the new Apple Maps icon search tool, so Apple isn't inventing anything here, but this new feature, which will be available to those 42 million users I mentioned earlier should help to place new butts into local business seats.
Additional good news
Rumors indicate Apple Maps will be soon be available on Android, which should dramatically improve the number of users who are accessing your business on the Apple app. With more than one billion Android users globally, Apple Maps' US user base should balloon way past the 42 million mark.
A couple weeks ago, a rumor also emerged that suggested Apple-operated camera-equipped automobiles are capturing 3D street view imagery and storefront stills to help Apple improve its mapping data, and reduce reliance on third parties, such as Google.
Like Google's My Business feature, which enables businesses to improve search traffic, keep information updated, provide up-to-date links, generate traffic directions, and add customer photos and reviews to a dedicated Maps link, Apple recently updated its Maps Connect tool to include more major cities and listings for even smaller organizations. Launched in 2014, Map Connect allows small businesses to log-in to a private site where they can edit things like Business Name, Phone Number, Address, Location, and many of the other attributes you're likely to find on a Google Maps listings.
So what does this all mean?
Truth be told: Apple is still far behind Google in terms of functionality and usability. However, if you're a small business with a dedicated marketing team focused on search and web-based listings, you can't allow Apple's Maps stumbles to turn you away from the application. Apple doesn't seem to be giving up the Map game yet, and you can't afford to give up on Apple Maps. It's a vital tool that, although inferior to Google's application, you should be constantly updating and optimizing.