Two years after Apple stumbled during its high-profile rollout of Maps in iOS 6, the company has taken a low-key approach in its latest challenge to Google's geo-hegemony. On Tuesday, Apple with little fanfare introduced Maps Connect, a pair of location-based services for businesses that presents an alternative to Google+ Local.
There's Maps Connect for Small Business, a free DIY business listing service that adds business information to Apple Maps, and Maps Connect for Indoors, a service to help businesses implement Apple's iBeacon indoor positioning technology at store locations.
Beacons are small wireless devices that transmit a signal to nearby mobile devices; mobile apps that have been designed to respond to these signals can respond in a way determined by the app's developer, such as soliciting a purchase or presenting a discount offer. Apple's iBeacon system is a proprietary implementation of beacon technology.
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While Maps Connect for Small Business is presently available to business owners or representatives in the US, Maps Connect for Indoors is being offered only to selected businesses at the moment. Apple's website notes that the company has received overwhelming interest in indoor mapping at store locations and is presently prioritizing businesses that have more than a million visitors a year.
Apple allows business owners or authorized representatives to add a street address, phone number, business categories, hours of operation, social links, and to verify store locations on Apple Maps. Businesses with more than 100 locations that wish to provide a data file are advised to contact Apple.
Maps Connect for Small Business appears to be the direct result of Apple's purchase of Canadian startup Locationary last year. In its effort to buy its way past the troubled 2012 Maps launch, Apple has made other geo-oriented acquisitions, including WiFiSlam, HopStop.com, Embark, and BroadMap.
Last month, research firm BIA/Kelsey predicted that mobile local ad revenues will grow from $4.3 billion in 2014 to $6.6 billion in 2015 and that local social media revenues and local search revenues would also rise.
In a blog post on Tuesday, Michael Boland, program director for BIA/Kelsey's mobile local media practice, speculated that Maps Connect could mark the beginning of a local advertising play for Apple. However, he notes that Apple claims its purpose is to provide a simple way for businesses to keep map information accurate and current.
"Apple was actually clear that today's move won't create maps that are overpopulated with ad units that appear during local searches," said Boland. "It's mostly about having the right data in the background to let users find what they're looking for, and for SMBs to get found."
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