Everyone I work with that has an iPhone sort of rejoiced over this today.
My coworkers all assume Apple was actively preventing a Google Maps iOS app from existing in the App store and I don’t buy it.
Was the former VP of iOS blocking Google, trying to carry on Steve Jobs’s fury over Android? Would that have to lead to anti-competitive lawsuits eventually?
So who was being the biggest jerk to iOS Maps users?
Apple has always owned the iOS Maps app and was licensing Google’s map data to drive it.
Was Google holding back turn-by-turn navigation from Apple to strengthen Android? If so, didn’t that force Apple’s hand to look elsewhere for map data with a turn-by-turn solution? Mapquest, Tom Tom and other third parties were already filling the gap by providing turn-by-turn navigation apps in the App Store, but that doesn’t allow for a system-driven API to be used by other apps that wanted to use system-wide map data. Apple doesn’t like relying on others for too long anyway. They have a history of seeing what the Mac software community makes to fill user needs and often poaches them.
The media’s take on the whole maps war makes Apple out to be the asshole that prioritized business need over what was best for the user, but what if Google’s not that easily the white knight?
What if Google was strong-arming Apple? Google needs to collect user location data to serve up location-based ads, so what if Apple was protecting myself and all the other iOS users by defaulting to not share user data with Google, who has a profit motive to place their ads in front of me? I could see Google saying that’s a deal breaker for them. Do not track defaults are a huge debate these days.
Apple has been a proponent for user privacy. The biggest appeal of buying a Mac to me was their quality and Apple’s prevention of junkware PC pollution.
According to Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio, magazine publishers were angry with Jobs for not sharing iPad magazine subscriber data with them, which he refused to do over privacy concerns. Magazine publishers sell your subscription info to subsidize $12 magazine subscriptions, giving you all your lovely junk mail.
I would prefer my New York City map data not start to look like Times Square.
When my wife and I took a day trip to NYC last year, I found it annoying that a location-based ad in Google maps data was more visually prominent than my destination location. I don’t want a maps app with obnoxious ads distracting me from my goal. Many websites look like Times Square these days and load like molasses all for the sake of “monetization”.
Google’s strength is crowd-sourced data, so while not perfect (I’ve been screwed over twice by their bad data), crowd-sourced data is more rapid for iteration. Apple couldn’t just buy small map companies and expect to compete with Google’s crowd-sourced data machine. Well, they could, but obviously failed.
Apple made an especially bad trade-off when this current Maps app lost the mass transit data that Google supplied previously.
Quick anecdote on Apple map data failure: I sent the location of a team lunch to a teammate from Apple’s Maps app, the map data was wrong (I triple-checked. It wasn’t me!), and he went to the wrong place and missed the lunch. I felt bad and cursed Apple.
John Gruber provides some great insight on my questions at Daring Fireball.
This stand off left iOS users with worse default map driving data and a significant inconvenience for those having to seek out transit data. The transit map data gap really sucked for city dwellers that relied on Google’s consolidated mass transit data, a demographic that probably correlates strongly with a high population of smartphone users.
Apple encouraging people to seek out third party apps to fill that gap was much less user friendly.
I’m still unsure why we’re seeing a Google iOS Maps app months later, but I’ll use logic to present likely scenarios.
People are assuming and accusing Apple of blocking or holding up the Google iOS Maps app from App Store release.
If someone at Apple was holding back Google’s iOS app, shame on Apple, but I wouldn’t go rush to speculate that.
It’s logical to assume Google just wasn’t ready for releasing their own Google Maps iOS app in the App Store when iOS 6 launched. Apple just took the PR hit for going too early with their own maps data, a solution they had been building for some time and hoped would be sufficient to break away from reliance on Google, but it had significant gaps.
Google took a play from Apple’s playbook, with Eric Schmidt being relatively silent and coy about their new iOS maps app plans, likely waiting until it was ready to ship. Usually Google promotes things from the future to varying degrees of success (Google TV predictions in particular).
It would be interesting to learn if the Scott Forstall departure was related to this, a last straw and good reason to remove someone the other Apple VPs had found too competitive.
Internal competition is a double-edged sword, fostering alternative ideas counter to the hive mind of large companies, at times sparking innovation, but corporate internal competition is also inherently inefficient. Tim Cook seems big on efficiency, considering his success with working the logistics to get manufacturing optimized to reduce cost on higher quality Apple products that used to come with higher premiums.
The good news is, with this app available, competition exists and the users win.