Last week Apple issued a press release for a new tool, something they call ‘Apple Business Connect’ and it’s tightly linked to Apple Maps.
Press releases about Apple Maps don’t come particularly frequently from Apple. If you include last week’s release there have been just four dedicated press releases about Apple Maps since 20161. The prior one was in September 2021, announcing their 3D city maps.
‘Apple Business Connect’ seems like a very specialized topic. Almost too much in the weeds for Apple to stoop so low and give it press release.
So what’s the big deal?
Well, now businesses and organizations are being given the opportunity to “Put your business on the map.”
Huh, but weren’t all businesses on the map already?
Well, not always.
It turns out getting all those businesses on the map is hard — super hard. And it’s even harder to keep all the information about them current.
Having accurate, complete and up-to-date information about businesses is also absolutely crucial to the success of you map product: it doesn’t matter how pretty your map looks, it’s pretty much useless if you can’t find the organization you’re looking for.
The issue of how hard it is to keep the information up-to-date quickly became apparent with the onset of the pandemic. Restaurants and other businesses were suddenly closed or suddenly had very different operating hours. And it was extremely difficult to keep track of all the changes.
Keeping this information current is a constant struggle for all map makers, and Apple is far from immune.
So how does one even begin to address this challenge?
For you millennials in the audience, let me start with a little history:
Back in the old days we had something called the ‘Yellow Pages’. These were big printed books published by your national or regional telephone company. The yellow pages listed all the businesses in your city or region and complemented the ‘white pages’ which contained the residential listings2.
Yellow Pages were a big business: they generated a ton of advertising revenue for the phone companies. As a business you could buy a block of space — advertising your trade, your shop or perhaps your legal practice. If you really wanted to grab someone’s attention you bought a full page ad at great expense and renamed you business so it started with the letter ‘A’ — or indeed many As — so as to increase the likelihood that your listing was the first a prospective customer would see.
Being big, heavy and expensive to produce the phone books were published just once a year.
In the 1990s, with the advent of mobile phones and the quickly growing popularity of the internet, the business models of the phone companies began to change. The data started to move online. Suddenly the world became awash with something called “Internet Yellow Pages”. Back in their hay day Internet Yellow Pages were a key feature of both America Online (AOL) and Yahoo! The legacy of this era lives on today, for example with “Pages Jaunes” in France, but I’m pretty certain almost nobody uses it.
The issue in the 1990s was the currency of the data. These digital yellow pages were updated using the same low cadence methodology as had been used for decades with the printed yellow pages. The publishers would proudly tell you: “We call every business once per year!” 😱
Moreover, as these companies were making money from advertising, they were far more concerned with getting another year’s revenue from the lawyers, locksmiths & plumbing companies than they were about deleting listings for organizations that were no longer in business. So not only was there a currency issue, there was also a quality issue.
Back in the heady days of the dot com boom in the late 1990s I was one of the people at MapQuest that had to deal with these companies. Let’s just say that they didn’t move at the speed of the internet.
I remember dealing with all the various companies operating in the US at that time — InfoUSA, Dun & Bradstreet and Database America to name just a few — trying to understand their processes and their data quality.
A quote from a salesman at Database America sticks with me still to this day:
“It’s not a question of how good these databases are, it’s a question of how bad they are!”Monte Wasch, c. 1995
So what about today? How do mapping organizations like TomTom, HERE, Google and Apple Maps keep their own ‘business listings’ current?
If you dig a little you can quickly find out that they don’t do all the work by themselves. And that’s true even for Google. It’s a massive aggregation and collation of data from dozens and dozens of sources. To get an idea of what sources are used you simply have to find the ‘acknowledgments’ page for each product. For example, here is the acknowledgements page for Google Maps’ business listings and here is the same page for Apple Maps3. These pages don’t list all the organizations that contribute data, but they list many of them.
At its inception Apple Maps relied solely on third parties, the most prominent being Yelp. Unlike Google and unlike Facebook, Apple has never seriously been collecting data about businesses.
That is until fairly recently.
It all started a couple of years ago in the latter part of 2020. Apple Maps suddenly gave users the ability to rate businesses in Australia as well as upload photos. It wasn’t long before this ability was extended to many more countries. This didn’t mean Yelp and other partners were suddenly swept aside, but it was a telltale sign that Apple was beginning to shift towards a homegrown solution.
Of course Google had taken the same approach many years before. It started with Google Local in 2004 and, via a long, winding and horrendously convoluted road, to the launch of Google Business Profile in November 2021:
Due to the enormous popularity of Google search and Google Maps businesses knew that they had to be found on Google and that they needed to be visible on Google Maps. Google didn’t have to do much to encourage businesses to seek out the page on Google where they could provide the information. Today Google Business Profile offers a myriad of options to enable businesses to not only add or correct basic information, but enrich it with details to entice people to visit:
So what is Apple Business Connect?
Well, it’s taken them a while — err, 19 years4 — but it’s actually Apple’s response to Google Business Profile.
Like Google Business Profile you can add your business if it’s not listed, correct information if it’s wrong and enrich your listing with things like official photos, menus, special announcements and offers. The information you provide doesn’t just make its way to Apple Maps, but it also gets shared across the Apple ecosystem to services like Siri. Similar to Google Business Profile, Apple Business Connect also provides access to an analytics dashboard so you can see how users are interacting with your listing.
But here’s the $64 million dollar question: wiil businesses even realize that Apple Business Connect exists?
The problem — of course — is all about mindshare.
In most countries Google Maps is nearly always top of mind5. So much so that many iPhone users will swear to you that they use nothing but Google Maps, but when you ask them to point to the icon of the app they use it turns out it’s not Google Maps, it’s Apple Maps.
So will the owner of Joe’s pizza parlor even even think about Apple Maps, let alone go on a hunt for Apple Business Connect?
I think we all know the answer.
Not unless Apple starts a major campaign to significantly increase the awareness of Apple Maps and Apple Business Connect.
It’s extremely unlikely Apple would start a massive billboard advertising campaign. Even if they could foist the costs of such a campaign on carriers, I don’t think this would ever happen.
A more logical approach might be to promote Apple Business Connect as part of the Apple Business Essentials, a program which helps organizations optimize use of the Apple devices they use at work.
Or perhaps Apple Business Connect could become a more prominent feature of Apple Pay, for example in the promotional pages that help businesses learn more about Apple Pay and how to set it up:
A conjecture that seems to me to be far more likely, however, is that Apple Business Connect is just the start. The rumor mill has been rumbling about the likelihood of ads coming to Apple Maps. While I have no information to substantiate or refute such rumors, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Tim and Luca would salivate at the prospect of recouping some of their massive geospatial investments.
Then promoting Apple Business Connect in order to effect more accurate, more complete and more up-to-date businesses in Apple Maps would be easy. They could just make use of unsold inventory.
One thing is for sure, however: Apple Business Connect is not a case of “if you build it, they will come”.
Let’s all stay tuned, ‘cos Apple is going to have to do something big to make your average Joe aware.
1 Links to Apple press releases about Apple Maps:
- Apple delivers a new redesigned Maps for all users in the United States [January 30, 2020]
- Apple Maps now displays COVID-19 vaccination locations [March 16, 2021]
- Apple Maps introduces new ways to explore major cities in 3D [September 27, 2021]
- Introducing Apple Business Connect [January 11, 2023]
2 In some cases there was also something called the ‘blue pages’ for government listings
3 To get to this page on iOS, open Maps, tap the ‘choose map type’ button, then tap on the link at the bottom of the screen: ‘(c) OpenStreetMap and other data providers’
4 Google Local launched in 2004. Apple Business Connect launched 2023.
5 With perhaps the exception of China, Russia and South Korea
- Blutrain for their article The Evolution of Google My Business
- Monte Wasch
- Movie Posters USA