You may have heard recently about the Apple Maps app that was introduced with the iOS 6 update. Apple discovered that users of map applications want accurate maps informing them, and an understandable uproar was voiced as users collectively looked elsewhere for their directions. Apple apologized for their oversight with a heartfelt ”my bad” last week and continues to be ridiculed for rolling out such an incomplete product.
That said, people aren’t writing about the dirtiest secret of Apple Maps: maps notwithstanding it is a pretty great product.
Apple Maps (with accurate maps) is as good as a GPS device. I use it all of the time, and in Southwest Ohio it has performed stellar. Siri gives you your directions, the map and overview is very clear-cut – it’s a vast improvement on the former app. But there is a huge issue with it: battery life. The Apple Maps app drains power like no other app that I’ve ever used – and this is a huge problem for future geo apps such as Google’s Project Glass and future iterations of Foursquare, Yelp or even Facebook.
Highlight was the first app to feel the pain of drain
A lot of people (myself included) were really high on the Highlight app when it came out (in fact I found out from a Robert Scoble video). Highlight is an app that uses the GPS in your smartphone to alert you when someone with similar Facebook interests or friends is nearby.
It turns out that Highlight was noted to be quite a battery drain (they have since improved this). I’ve written about how you can a local business could easily do a cheap retargeting campaign using Facebook and Highlight, yet if people delete Highlight from their phones because of the battery drain this is all for not.
The map problem is both inexcusable and will be quickly fixed. Yet the bigger long-term issue for Apple Maps and similar geo products may be how much battery life it takes to run them.
Foursquare seems to be trying to to circumvent the battery issue.
Foursquare is the leading social geo app (today, anyhow). Yet their most recent initiatives such as push advertising, in-app restaurant bookings, and customizable search clearly avoid the most useful application which would be real-time geo-targeting. For example, you are in proximity to my restaurant and you get a push-offer to come and visit. With Project Glass designed to be naturally in this space, this is clearly what Foursquare needs to do. So why aren’t they doing it?
My suspicion is that Foursquare doesn’t want to compromise its user base by “innovating” in this space. Foursquare could conceivably do a push notification rather easily, but if anything went wrong or if user sentiment turned on Foursquare it could hurt the not-yet-profitable company.
Will future geo apps be constrained by battery life?
I suspect that one of the primary constraints for most of these geo apps to do real-time geo-specific pushes is battery life. Location-based services and wi-fi have notoriously increased battery drain, and apps that are expanding the capability of these apps appear to be increasing battery demand further.
I expect that Apple is going to wake up from their Maps debacle and realize that they have another problem with battery usage. Which is disappointing, because in the immediate future of accurate maps and longer battery life, it is a pretty fantastic product.
Post-script: It should be noted that battery life seems to be better for iPhone 5 users running iOS 6 versus other iPhone users (I have a 4S), but this is probably a negligible benefit to power-hungry apps.