iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur show­case Ap­ple’s lat­est shots at Google

The two tech gi­ants are poised to go head‑to‑head more than ever. Dan Moren re­ports

iPad&iPhone user - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple’s in a strange po­si­tion vis‑à‑vis many of its big­gest ri­vals. While the com­pany has in the past counted many of the most prom­i­nent tech com­pa­nies in the world – IBM, Mi­crosoft, In­tel – as ri­vals, in more re­cent years, it’s been strate­gi­cally savvy about turn­ing those erst­while com­peti­tors into al­lies.

Which isn’t to say that the com­pany doesn’t still have pow­er­ful foes. But the na­ture of the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try to­day is that none of these com­pa­nies ex­ist in a vac­uum; there are so few at the high­est of lev­els that

ul­ti­mately all of them ex­ist in a lim­i­nal state be­tween ally and en­emy. And for Ap­ple, no com­pany is more prom­i­nent in that fren­emy zone than Google.

But with the lat­est up­dates to its soft­ware plat­forms un­veiled at this year’s WWDC, Ap­ple has once again taken plenty of shots at Google, rolling out fea­tures that com­pete di­rectly with Moun­tain View’s own of­fer­ings, all while deftly steer­ing around the places the com­pa­nies con­tinue to work to­gether.

Found in trans­la­tion

Per­haps one of the big­gest sur­prises in the new ini­tia­tives un­der­taken by Ap­ple this year is the fo­cus on trans­la­tion. It’s some­thing that the com­pany has only dab­bled in pre­vi­ously, of­fer­ing the abil­ity for Siri to do some rudi­men­tary look‑up of words from other lan­guages.

But in this year’s plat­form up­dates, trans­la­tion is front and cen­tre. Not only does it have its own app – for which Ap­ple em­pha­sizes the pri­vate, on‑de­vice na­ture of trans­la­tion – but it’s also built right into Sa­fari, al­low­ing surfers to in­stan­ta­neously trans­late a web page.

Google Trans­late has been the de facto trans­la­tion stan­dard on the web for years, and the com­pany has con­tin­u­ously ex­panded it to in­clude most of the world’s lan­guages, as well as go­ing be­yond just typed trans­la­tions to spo­ken, hand­writ­ten, and even im­ages as well.

By com­par­i­son, Ap­ple’s cur­rent trans­la­tion fea­ture is mea­gre. It only sup­ports a hand­ful of lan­guages at present, rather than the more than 100 of­fered by

Google Trans­late. But Ap­ple – again tak­ing a page from Google’s play­book – has billed the trans­la­tion fea­ture as a ‘beta’ so far, re­in­forc­ing the idea that the com­pany has only just started down this path. It seems un­likely that Ap­ple will be able to chal­lenge the stran­gle­hold Google has on web trans­la­tion, but if it con­tin­ues to im­prove its on‑de­vice fea­ture, it may be able to seize the de­fault po­si­tion for users of its own plat­forms.

On the map

In 2012, Ap­ple made one of the big­gest changes to its young mo­bile plat­form when it opted to dis­con­tinue its re­la­tion­ship with Google for the iPhone’s built‑in map­ping app, and in­stead rolled out its own re­place­ment.

Even now, al­most eight years later, the com­pany still hasn’t to­tally erased the back­lash it got for what, at the time, was cer­tainly a sub‑par so­lu­tion com­pared to Google’s own of­fer­ing. But over that time, Ap­ple has spent a lot of en­ergy in im­prov­ing its map­ping prod­uct, re­build­ing the data from the ground up, adding new fea­tures like in­door map­ping and Look Around, and this year in­te­grat­ing a long‑miss­ing ca­pa­bil­ity: cy­cling di­rec­tions.

It’s em­blem­atic of the strat­egy that a huge, prof­itable com­pany like Ap­ple can af­ford to take: slowly and steadily build­ing an en­tire sys­tem from scratch and grad­u­ally im­prov­ing it over the course of years. Rolling out a Maps ser­vice that would have com­peted di­rectly with Google eight years ago would have been ba­si­cally im­pos­si­ble, given the dis­ad­van­tage at which Ap­ple started. But the long‑term strat­egy has al­lowed Ap­ple

to erode Google’s us­age on its own plat­form, just as the com­pany is likely to do in trans­la­tion.

Pri­vate eyes

The axis of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween Ap­ple and Google isn’t al­ways a straight line. Some­times Ap­ple builds com­pet­ing prod­ucts, as in the case of trans­la­tion and maps, but other times its ap­proach is di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed, bring­ing the dif­fer­ences be­tween the two into stark re­lief.

Such is the case with Ap­ple’s stance on pri­vacy and, specif­i­cally, its re­cent ad­di­tion of the Pri­vacy Re­port fea­ture in Sa­fari on iOS 14, iPadOS 14 and macOS

Big Sur. While Cu­per­tino has long boasted about its com­mit­ment to pri­vacy via in­no­va­tions like block­ing cross‑site track­ing, it’s put that front and cen­tre in the lat­est plat­forms by ac­tu­ally show­ing users all the track­ers that it blocks on var­i­ous web pages.

That’s sig­nif­i­cant be­cause many of the most prom­i­nent track­ers you’ll find across the web are Google’s. (It’s hardly sci­en­tific, but if I look at my Pri­vacy Re­port on the iOS 14 beta, it tells me the top five most con­tacted track­ers are all Google’s.)

Ad­ver­tis­ing re­mains the core of Google’s busi­ness model, and this is yet an­other shot di­rectly across the com­pany’s bow. And while it might not be enough to

sink Moun­tain View, it will likely only has­ten the slow de­cline of web‑based ad­ver­tis­ing, es­pe­cially if other browsers fol­low suit.

If noth­ing else, it will help keep Google on its toes, and a Google that’s busy wor­ry­ing about its bot­tom line may be more vul­ner­a­ble in other are­nas in which it’s likely to go head‑to‑head with Ap­ple.

Ap­ple slowly and steadily con­tin­ues to im­prove Maps

Sa­fari in macOS Big Sur has sup­port for a pri­vacy re­port

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