While iPhone 5 got all the love at yesterday’s Apple fest and obeisant press attention, the impending release of iOS 6 is actually even more relevant to more users and marketers. If the platform follows historical precedent, a large share of iOS users will be upgrading to the new OS in the weeks and months to come.
Although the changes to this version are not quite as striking as some earlier updates, a few fundamentals have shifted. The gold master of the iOS 6 was released to developers yesterday, so I have had a couple of hours to play with a few key elements. The big winner is Yelp!, but that's not always a good thing for users.
The Apple-made Maps app comes front and center as a major shift in IOS design. Setting aside the eye candy of the 3D view, the real meat of mapping has been revised. The look and feel of the visuals is different from the very bare bones Google-made maps of the past five years. Streets and highway numbers are more prominent and clearer.
But the most striking change is the integration of deeper information about local resources. Yelp! is the source of user-generated content that is available at a tap on locations. If you zoom a view down to street level so that local destinations become icons, a tap on any of the listed locations will tell you the star rating and how many user reviews exist for the place. Tap through and you get a miniaturized version of a Yelp! page. User or merchant-made images from the place fill in a neat profile page. The reviews tab allows the user to check in right from the maps app.
The problem with relying on user-gen listings is the same now as it always was -- an incomplete view of available resources. While the Google maps in iOS 5 did not have any of the interactivity and depth available in the iOS maps on certain locations, the map view did offer a more comprehensive overview. The Apple maps have selective listings in map view. In the few locations nearby I have compared new and old versions of the maps, the old Google maps were giving me a better overview, while Apple’s tended to favor the places where Yelp! users had interacted.
Apple clearly set itself up well here to leverage iPhone mapping as a potential cash cow of local marketing. Siri is very nicely integrated with both the maps. and with Yelp! to deliver seamless responses to questions like “what are the best Asian restaurants nearby?” Siri even seemed to recognize a travel route I already had programmed in the map app’s new integrated turn-by-turn voice directions to deliver answers relevant to my route.
Merchants will be well-served to update their Yelp! profiles and get richer information into the system. But the system is too dependent on Yelp! In my nearby strip mall where there are at least seven well-trafficked restaurants, only one shows up on this map because Yelp! users seem to like reviewing it. Which is not to say that Google’s Map interface was much better. But both remind us that local listings on devices are still in a relatively nascent state. The opportunities here are staggering for providers like Apple and Google. Multibillion-dollar industries were built on local listings. It still doesn’t feel "there" yet.