Google announced a slew of improvements to its desktop and mobile Maps apps, including a new design and better search results. Apple doesn't offer a Web-based map solution at all, so all of Google's advantages on that front—including its new, on-map search results display—best Apple's nonexistent offering.
On the mobile side, Google Maps also gains some new features that Apple's Maps app on iOS can't match. Among them: Integrated restaurant reviews, in-app deals to use at nearby businesses, and socially-generated recommendations. (Apple's Maps app includes the first two, powered by Yelp, but Google's approach will make discovery of each much simpler, with a more integrated feel.) Those features won't arrive until this summer, so it's possible that iOS 7--still also theoretical--will match some of them.
What it means for Apple: Apple's own Maps must continue its long, uphill slog, and try not to get lost.
Finally, Google showed off significant upgrades to Google Now, its voice-based, Siri-esque personal assistant. Google gave a lot of attention to Google Now's newfound ability to handle voice-created reminders, a feature incorporated into Siri (including geofenced reminders) since Apple's service's debuted in 2011.
Other features of Google Now aren't quite matched by Apple--specifically, its cards-based notifications that are built into Android, and available via the Google Search app on iOS. That offering, which can provide contextual alerts based on messages in your inbox and your personal, Google-connected history, has no direct match on iOS. Some features, like Google Now's ability to pop up information related to travel or coupons as you arrive at certain locations, is matched nicely by Apple's Passbook offering. But Apple as yet offers no other contextual awareness like that provided by Google Now.
What it means for Apple: It's time for Siri to come out of beta. Siri should work on Macs and iOS devices alike. And it needs to keep gaining Google Now-style smarts to avoid becoming an also-ran.
Apple vs. Google
Rest assured, Apple developers and fans, it's not yet time to panic in the streets. While Google announced some significant advances this week, Apple continues to enjoy its own edges, and WWDC is still a few weeks away.
But if WWDC comes and goes without a significant improvement to developer tools, don't be shocked if some iOS developers start peeking over the virtual fence a bit more at the Android side of things. If Google Play customers increasingly show a willingness to spend in that store the way App Store customers do today—admittedly, a very big if—Google's impressive options for making developers' lives easier may well cause a shift in the development landscape.
And Google's improvements in other areas, if nothing else, should provide ample fuel to fire up Apple's competitive spirit. When tech giants compete by releasing great stuff, we all win.
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