Driven by Siri and voice first, local search is becoming increasingly important for business. Now Apple is finally preparing to introduce new features inside iOS 14’s Maps app that promise to boost the importance of putting your enterprise on the local map.

Photos and reviews are coming

We’ve learned that iOS 14 contains two key enhancements that raise the bar for Maps:

  1. User submitted reviews, including a thumbs up/down button.
  2. User submitted images.

The implications for beautiful outdoor locations and places of interest is evident. In theory, you’ll be able to use Apple’s Look Around feature to check how these places look from the high street, and then explore them more deeply by exploring user submitted images.

At a time when social distancing and lockdowns have become part of modern living, this may be the only way some of us can return to our most-special places for a while.

The implications for business are perhaps greater. Business owners will want to generate positive user reviews in Google, Yelp and in Apple Maps, as they know good reviews generate business. They will want to populate Maps with images that show their business in a good light.

How will Apple prevent vexatious criticism?

Every business owner expects a little criticism. Everyone makes mistakes or gets misunderstood from time to time. But how can we ensure that vexatious reviews aren’t left behind?

I’m not certain Apple has fully thought through this part of the paradigm. Over time, it will certainly need to introduce some form of post-publication vetting system to ensure it doesn’t unwittingly carry vexatious reviews/images designed to trash competitors.

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It is reassuring that the company has taken some steps in the right direction to protect against such incidents:

  • First, the company warns that reviews and images posted to Maps will be tied to a person’s Apple ID. That means anonymity will not defend malice.
  • Second, it insists that those submitting images must be over 13 years of age.
  • Finally, all images published via the Apple Maps servers will be subject to approval by human reviewers.

Those three lines of defense should help mitigate the kind of negativity that impacts other user-generated review communities.

All the same, business owners will certainly hope to gain some input into what is published about their operations through Maps, potentially via Apple’s Maps Connect portal, where businesses can already publish details about themselves.

Keeping an eye on things

The potential to create, verify and publish indoor maps of some locations via this feature must surely be part of the company’s medium-term plan, given the LiDAR technologies it is investing so deeply in across its mobile platforms and its work to create AR glasses.

The new feature should also relate well with Apple’s newly introduced city guides feature in Maps. These curated guides are supplemented by your own personal ones.

In the future, I imagine those self-created guides will be able to also feature images (and, conceivably) video of locations created and submitted to the service by others.

Google Earth users will see a host of affinities in this.

Apple’s opportunity here is that it owns the platform, which means it could conceivably make some of this data available for use by third-party developers with a collection of Maps APIs, as well as making imaginative use of the data for its own product designs. (There will likely be some legal limitations to such use, given the user-submitted nature of these images.)

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For business users, there’s a potential opportunity here to think about drawing images from Maps with which to populate local store pages, to help provide travel directions, or (conceivably) for use in hyperlocalized advertising on Apple’s platforms.

That’s all speculation, but it seems a logical progression – though perhaps less on the advertising, given Apple’s focus on reducing user friction.

The move to add user-submitted information to Maps will make Apple less reliant on third-party information services, but should also prompt business users to prioritize adding information about their business to Apple Maps – possibly supplemented by Apple Business Chat.

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