Apple Maps still isn't likely to replace Google Maps for some users (it only got multi-stop routes last year), but Apple thinks it has another way to shrink the feature gap: give stores more control over what you see. The company has launched a free Apple Business Connect tool that lets any firm customize its location cards in apps like Maps, Messages, Siri and Wallet. They can add their own imagery, invite actions in other apps (such as booking a restaurant through OpenTable) or showcase the latest promos.
Apple will verify businesses before it gives control over a location card, but shops only have to use an Apple ID to sign up. Business Connect is available worldwide, although showcases will only be available in the US at first. They'll reach other countries in the "coming months," the company says.
The expansion comes as Apple is rumored to be finding ways to profit from Maps. The iPhone creator is reportedly preparing to bring search ads to Maps as soon as this year. If that's true, custom store info could help Apple's bottom line — a business might be more likely to pay for ads if it knows they'll lead to more sales.
Whatever Apple's motivations, the custom cards still promise to improve the Maps experience for everyday users. You should see more accurate and polished info for local businesses, and have an easier time with everyday tasks like booking a hotel or ordering groceries. It may be more helpful when you share locations with friends in Messages, too. Apple is arguably overdue on this front (businesses have had control over their Google Maps profiles for years), but you may well notice the difference.