Do Apple's new features mean startup roadkill?

With additions like a location-based Find My Friends apps, Apple's jumping in where loads of others are gaining traction or trying hard.

Paul Sloan Former Editor
Paul Sloan is editor in chief of CNET News. Before joining CNET, he had been a San Francisco-based correspondent for Fortune magazine, an editor at large for Business 2.0 magazine, and a senior producer for CNN. When his fingers aren't on a keyboard, they're usually on a guitar. Email him here.
Paul Sloan
3 min read

The new Cards iOS app lets you create and mail cards from your iPhone or iPod Touch. Will it crush competitors? Kent German/CNET

It happens every time Apple makes changes: Startups die and startups flourish. And today Apple rolled out a number of features--some expected, some not--that aim squarely at fledgling businesses.

Location, location, location
Apple unveiled an app called Find My Friends that lets you track friends or family on a map, in real time. You can also control how long you are available for others to see, which lessens the creepiness factor. This sort of app has plenty of useful scenarios--attention, parents on the fence about buying iPhones for your kids--and Apple's jumping in where loads of others are gaining traction or trying hard.

Google, for instance, makes a location app called Latitude, which is available for the iPhone and comes preinstalled on Android phones. Google isn't sweating today's announcement, of course, but others likely are. There is Glympse, which last June raised $7.5 million from Menlo Ventures and Ignition Partners; Life360, which had been adding users at a rapid clip, and several lesser-known competitors, such as one called Glassmap.

What do they do now? They'll likely argue that they have features Apple does not, and that their apps run on Android-based phones as well as other competitors to the iPhone. The smart players will try to tap into the sudden awareness Apple brings to location-based apps.

"They'll now say, 'It's like Find My Friends, but we've been around a while and we do it better,'" says Jeff Barbose, a longtime app developer and user experience designer who now works for marketing firm Razorfish. But Apple will preload the app on the phone, and that's going to make it a hard battle to win.

Free texting: iMessage
Apple showed off iMessage, a service it announced last June that will be on the new operating system. It lets users send free text messages to individuals or a group, so long as they're using and an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

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The first in the line of fire--the carriers--won't win any sympathy. But this feature is a popular one in the App Store, too. There are a slew of players, with names like WhatsApp Messenger, TextFreek, GroupMe and Kik, which claims more than 4 million users and in March raised $8 million from Union Square Ventures. Here, too, the fight will largely rest on selling to non-iPhone users and promoting features unavailable from Apple.

"It won't kill them all completely, but Apple's definitely taking some wind out of the sails of these players," says Dave Zohrob, a developer who's worked on dozens of social apps. "If you're building an app in this area, your chances of survival just got very small."

Fitness freaks rejoice
Apple's refreshed iPod nano comes with a lot more than larger icons and a lower price. It's also packed with goodies for gym rats: a built in accelerometer that gives you real-time feedback on your workout - how far you've run, say, and how many calories you've burned. You can then upload your data to the Nike+ Web site.

Talk about a kick in the gut: A quick search in the iTunes store for "fitness" apps pulls up well more than 100 apps. Not all will become road kill, of course. But plenty will quickly fade into the app wasteland. "The arrangement between Apple and Nike for the Nano certainly makes in more challenging for other fitness apps to compete," says Peter Farago, head of marketing for Flurry, an app analytics company.

The surprise card
Apple unveiled an app called Cards that lets users tap any photo on their phone and turn it into a greeting card for $2.99. Apple will mail the card, and even send you notifications as to its progress. It's nifty stuff, for sure, and makes a lot of sense considering how phones are quickly replacing cameras. It also competes with a bunch of mobile apps, including SnapShot Postcard and Postagram, which CNET wrote about when it launched in April. The entrepreneur behind Postagam, Matt Brezina, today told GigaOM his business' size is an advantage because it will be able to quickly cater to customer needs.

Let's hope. Otherwise Brezina, like so many other App entrepreneurs in Apple's crosshairs, might soon find himself soon using the big buzzword of the moment in the Valley: Pivot.

CNET freelance blogger Boonsri Dickinson contributed to this report.