As location becomes a critical part of mobile OS success, Apple has found itself in unfamiliar territory playing catch up to Google, according to Gartner.

Apple received criticism from users for the Apple Maps app it delivered with iOS 6 to replace Google Maps. After Google Maps returned to iOS 6, more than 10 million Apple users flocked to the familiar location app.

"With the Maps stumble, and the subsequent decision to allow an updated version of Google Maps into the Apple App Store, Apple might have assuaged its user base but the strategic cost was steep," Gartner analyst Mike McGuire wrote today on the Gartner blog.

Apple "is essentially back to where it was prior to launching their own mapping product--having their biggest ecosystem competitor controlling an all important app that drives significant revenue opportunities."

"Having giants battle over a core technology can drive industry standards while providing healthy competitive alternatives for mobile markets," he said. "But Apple's in a position they haven't often been in the past few years of having to follow somebody else in the development of what is sure to be a cornerstone of any successful device-software-service ecosystem: location."

Apple must decide whether to continue to invest in its own mapping app or "cede the maps market to Google," shifting focus to "location-enabled apps and transaction 'experiences' that can ride on top of any mapping infrastructure," McGuire said.

However, the conflict may be good news for mobile marketers, the Gartner analyst said. "Over the long-term, assuming Apple continues to fight to establish its own location toolkit, it is likely to result in a few opportunities to play the two platforms off of each other in terms of pricing and terms of service for specific location-enabled campaigns or tactics."

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