Google Maps Upgrade Debuts, but Its Future on Apple Devices Remains Unclear

At a news conference in San Francisco, Google announced several upgrades to Google Maps, including 3D Google Earth and a wearable Street View camera. But Google executives tried to avoid questions about whether Apple will replace Maps with its own application.

SAN FRANCISCO €” Google unveiled new features of Google Maps June 6. But during a demonstration of the new Maps features at a media briefing here, a Google executive deflected questions about Google Maps' future on the Apple iOS mobile operating system.

New features that are coming include 3D maps of major cities, a version of Maps that can be used offline and a backpack mounted with a Google Street View camera setup that can take pictures where cars can't go.

However, Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Maps, declined to confirm multiple reports, including one in The Wall Street Journal, that Apple will no longer install Google Maps natively on Apple iPhones or iPads in favor of Apple's own mapping application. Rumors of this decision were also reported back in May.

"I'm very proud of Google Maps services, and they are available basically on all devices and we will continue to make Google Maps services as widely available as possible," McClendon said.

Scott Ellison, an IDC analyst at the event, said Apple is expected to announce its own mapping app at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference next week at the Moscone West Convention Center here. He said that while Google Maps would no longer be preinstalled on Apple devices as it is now, it would still be available for download in Apple's App Store.

"Everyone expects them to be booted off of Apple iOS devices," said Ellison. Asked if Apple has the talent and engineering capabilities to match the features of Google Maps, which has been built up over seven years, he replied, €œWe're going to find out next week.€

€œGoogle Maps is one of the areas that has long been a core competency of Google,€ he said. €œIt's unlikely [Apple] has the same number of people devoted to maps as Google because Google's been in it for seven years and you€™ve seen the time they've spent on it.€

Apple has not responded to a request for comment.

Google demonstrated Google Maps' new 3D capability by taking the audience on what looks like a helicopter ride over San Francisco, showing overhead views of City Hall, the Ferry Building, AT&T Park and other landmarks.

In older versions of Google Earth, skyscrapers look flat and it€™s hard to tell the relative height of buildings. But McClendon was vague about how many cities would be available in 3D once the service starts, only promising "several." However, he said that by the end of the year, cities with a combined population of 300 million would be viewable in 3D.

Google Maps will soon be available offline, Rita Chen, a product manager for Google Maps on Mobile, explained. She demonstrated how someone planning a trip to London could download onto their mobile device a map of the city that they could scan, search and zoom in and out of to help them find their way once they arrived.