Apple gets thrown in the briar patch

OK, let me get this straight.

  1. Apple and Google have a falling out over the built-in iOS Maps app. Among the problems: Google wanted more access to user information and Apple wanted the app to provide vector graphics and turn-by-turn directions the way Google’s maps on Android do.
  2. Apple cuts Google out and rewrites the Maps app with vector graphics and turn-by-turn. The data set behind the new app, however, isn’t as good as Google’s and the new Maps doesn’t have Street View or public transit directions.
  3. Three months later, Google puts out its own maps app with turn-by-turn, vector graphics, Street View, and public transit directions. It is widely hailed as a great addition to the dominant and every-growing portfolio of iOS apps.
  4. Apple is considered to have come out of this with a black eye.

I don’t see how Item 4 follows from Items 1-3. iOS now has a free maps app that’s every bit as good as what’s on Android. Google Maps is almost certainly collecting more user information than Maps was before, but it isn’t nearly as much information as it would be if Google Maps were a system app. Also, because it isn’t a system app, whatever data Google Maps collects, it isn’t getting it by way of Apple.

Sounds to me like playing hardball got Apple most of what it wanted. Reminds me of Flash.

Update 12/14/12
A few followups:

  • I suspect most iPhone users will continue to use the built-in Maps app because it’s already right there and it’s integrated with Siri, Contacts, etc. Yes, Apple will lose a certain amount of data collection, especially with regard to points of interest, but it was always going to be behind Google in that area. The raw map data (getting addresses right) is, I’ve read, less dependent on users.
  • Neither Apple nor Google make maps for the sake of making maps—they’re not Rand McNally. Apple wants maps as a feature to sell its phones; Google makes them to gather information on us that it can sell. A separate Google Maps app is a compromise that gives the iPhone two good free maps apps and allows Google to collect more info than it could before.
  • In the original setup, Google controlled the iOS system maps by controlling the data. Apple has broken that monopoly with only three months of inconvenience to that part of its customer base that needed what only Google provides.
  • Personally, I doubt I’ll use Google Maps except for Street View (which I really missed—there’s nothing like that point of view when you’re going to an unfamiliar area). Because I live in the U.S., where Apple’s mapping data is generally good, and I seldom use it for finding restaurants and other points of interest.

Overall, I see this as a win for Apple and a lesser win for Google. More important, it’s a big win for iPhone users.


31 Responses to “Apple gets thrown in the briar patch”

  1. John says:

    Pretty sure “Apple Maps” has taken irreparable “PR damage” at least in my country.

  2. Jim Forte says:

    The point is that Apple does not have to do anything with its maps app as google did all the work and gained non of what it asked for.

  3. Wes Campaigne says:

    Jim: Google is most certainly gaining what they asked for — increased brand visibility, control over how the maps are displayed, access to user data (especially by having map users log into their Google accounts) — but they’re not quite gaining it in the way that they wanted, i.e., through a built-in system app that everyone uses by default.

    No matter how much better Google Maps might be than Apple Maps, there exists a wide swath of users that will never go out of their way to download and use the Google Maps app in place of the built-in Maps. Access to those users is the one big thing that Google’s lost through this whole ordeal.

  4. Lukas says:

    I agree that this didn’t turn out as bad as it could have for Apple, but I don’t think they’re in a particularly great situation, even ignoring the PR disaster this has been for Apple.

    The current situation allows Google to control who has the best mapping experience. Which means that Android has the best mapping experience. And the more people use Google’s Maps app on the iPhone, the harder it is for Apple to catch up with Google, because the usage data from those iPhone users will go to Google, not Apple.

  5. Jason Verly says:

    Let’s take a step back and look at where Apple is headed. Google Maps is back on the iPhone (and hopefully the iPad in the near future) with a very nice update compared to what was previously integral to iOS. As Apple looked towards iOS 6, they wanted turn by turn navigation in Google Maps, just like Android got. Google wasn’t moving as fast as Apple wanted, so Apple decides to give it a go. While Apple failed miserably with their version of Maps, they eventually got what they wanted - turn by turn navigation in Google Maps.

    Prediction: 12 months from now Apple will have quitely moved away from Maps and allows Google to be defacto standard in iOS 7.

  6. Foomandoonian says:

    I wonder if you would still feel like Apple had made a canny move if your home town had disappeared?

    It’s amusing that you and Gruber both updated your posts on this subject with qualifiers about how Apple maps seem fine for you and that you don’t really use the features that Google offers anyway.

    I do agree though: In the long term, this is the smartest move for Apple.

  7. Andrew Shotland says:

    Jason, there’s just as good a chance (and in my view, a more likely chance) that Apple will double down on improving Apple Maps and over the next year we will see a lot of the problems - like people dying from bad directions - fade away. I think Apple will play the improvements in a fairly low-key way and, like Google Maps has done, it will just get better over time - I remember when Google Maps lost La Jolla for a few weeks - and with each iOS/iPhone/iPad update more people will trial it and decide it’s fine.

    Maps is a critical service on mobile phones with a number of strategic opportunities that I don’t think Apple wants to cede to Google so fast.

  8. Karl says:

    @Jason - Google never wrote nor maintained the iOS Maps applications. That was Apple’s end to end, only the data came from Google. So it wasn’t Google not moving fast enough, it was Google explicitly withholding that data from Apple.

    Apple has zero reason to ever go back to Google’s data, since you underestimate how much data they’ll be able to collect as the defacto map data provider in all iOS apps as well as the primary map app.

  9. Eli says:

    “The raw map data (getting addresses right) is, I’ve read, less dependent on users.”

    Sure, but that’s not where the problem really is with Apple Maps. The main problem is points of interest. If I want directions to the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue, having to separate Google the address in Mobile Safari, and then enter it into Maps is just ludicrously cumbersome, especially on a platform where copy-and-paste is kind of a pain. You write, “I seldom use it for finding restaurants and other points of interest.” I, also, seldom use either maps application for, say, finding out what Thai restaurants are near a specific location, but I use it constantly for looking up directions and 99% of the time I don’t know the street address of my destination, only its general location in the city. And I don’t think I’m atypical. This is the use case where Apple Maps just falls down completely.

  10. Steven Klein says:

    I’ve been using Apple maps for a few months now, and so far, I’ve seen only one minor mistake. (It showed a Target store on the wrong side of the street.)

    Usually I enter an exact street address, though sometimes I use Siri and say something like “directions to the nearest Walmart.”

    I live in the Detroit suburbs. Your mileage may (literally) vary.

  11. Ryan Singer says:

    Google had their chance to finally make some money in an App Store.

  12. jv says:

    We can’t be sure the majority of people won’t use Google Maps as the default app.

    You are underestimating the Google brand. This is not Netscape versus IE. This is Google. The one and only search on the internet for a decade. The one and only maps for a decade.

    Apple had to do what they had to do, but this is definitely not a win, not yet.

  13. James says:

    “I suspect most iPhone users will continue to use the built-in Maps app because it’s already right there and it’s integrated with Siri, Contacts, etc.”

    This right here is the issue.

    I suspect close to zero iPhone users in the majority of locations outside the US will ever launch Apple Maps willingly again. It’s not close to viable in London and I know that large parts of Australia are also 10+ years out of date. It’s not just the mapping (which is pretty bad), it’s also a complete lack of up to date POI information outside of what they can pull from Yelp. Yelp being something that almost no one in the UK has ever even heard of.

    So: we’re all back on Google Maps and that’s all fine.

    Except we can’t ask Siri questions or effectively use many apps that rely on the Mapping component. Google are apparently offering a way to integrate theirs instead but it’s extra effort from devs and so won’t happen across the board (although anyone making an app for Europe / Australia at least, would have a killer selling point if they did swap to Google vs. their competitors).

    So I’m mostly back to where I started with iOS5, I’m certainly glad I now have vector maps but I’m not glad that Siri isn’t as useful as it could be.

    I’m not sure (nor sure I care) who won between Apple and Google, but compared to the two companies reaching an agreement and keeping GMaps as the default: the user lost.

    The only way back from this is if Apple allow users to switch default apps for mapping (mail & browser would be nice too). Something I hope WILL be arriving at some point soon.

  14. Douglas Thiel says:

    I remember when I went to London last Spring (2012) and was using the Google version of the iOS maps app. In the middle of the night, arriving close to my destination from Heathrow, I was standing in the middle of a two lane (as in middle ages type of lane) intersection. Google maps miserably failed me. I had 3 directions to take and had no idea which one to take. Naturally I took the 2 wrong directions before the 3rd correct direction.

    Later, on the same trip, I tried to find the Apple Retail Store in Convent Gardens. Again, Google Maps delivered me close to my destination.

    My opinion of Google Maps is that it was quite inadequate in both situations, one where I was exhausted, and utterly dependent on the technology.

    Therefore, I really don’t know how Apple could do worse. Sure there were some funny images on the web, sure some people have no common sense and drive 50 miles out of their way based on their Apple Map directions. You can’t help everyone in all situations until you have great AI. :-)

  15. Dick Applebaum says:

    @Jason Verly “Prediction: 12 months from now Apple will have quitely moved away from Maps and allows Google to be defacto standard in iOS 7.”

    I think that exactly the opposite will happen. Apple Maps has the potential to be far better than Google maps — especially with features like 3D Flyover.

    Not to mention the additional mapping capabilities that Apple got when they bought PlaceBase… things like programmable maps ovetlaid with layers of demographic data: household income; average rainfall; number of bathrooms; number of cars; college education; political affiliation, etc.

    There used to be web sites for PlaceBase and PushPin (their interactive mapping APIs) — but these have been taken down. I played with some of the examples — and it was amazing the custom maps you could in a few minutes.

    The above, likely, will be of most interest to businesses like real estate; advertising; direct mail; political campaign get out the vote… and would be used more on the desktop or an iPad — as opposed to an iPhone.

    Finally, Apple has patented a new type of “Schematic Maps” where the map layout and proportion is modified to display important way points and eliminate distracting data — a kind of flow diagram from point a to point b. This could be very useful as a high-level navigation view — especially in a small screen…

    http://9to5mac.com/2011/08/11/placebase-team-at-apple-file-schematic-maps-patent-dynamically-detailing-important-data/

    Apple Maps — you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!

  16. Tim Buchheim says:

    I downloaded Google Maps, but I’ll probably continue to use Apple’s Maps most often. I find it to be quite accurate where I live (in the Los Angeles area) and I prefer Apple’s user interface. Plus, I absolutely love the Yelp integration. I’d much rather have Yelp reviews than Google’s restaurant info.

    But I’m happy to have Google for public transit directions. Apple’s patchwork solution would be ok (but still not great) if local transit apps were any good, but they’re not.

    I’ll also launch Google Maps occasionally for Street View probably.

  17. Jim says:

    As a dissenting opinion regarding performance in Europe: Apple Maps is demonstably better in Berlin (where I live), and I’ve found Apple maps to work without fail through out much of German speaking Europe.

    Speaking specifically to Berlin: Google has finally gotten transit data, or it thinks it has. Months ago they got data from DBahn, which does national rail. They also happen to own the S-Bahn, so now it tells you to walk 25 minutes to snag an S-Bahn train instead of the 3 minute walk to the U-Bahn station, because Google doesn’t know the U-Bahn (or busses) exist. Google also has issues correctly placing pins for locations here. For example the Tempodrom, a venue here, has its pin dropped a km or so away. Oddly enough if you zoom far in on the right spot, it’s actually labeled correctly on the map, but you wouldn’t know that looking near the pin.

    Those examples illuminate an important difference: Apple Maps (usually) knows what it doesn’t know. You’ll sometimes see it not return search results for a location. Google guesses. That leads to it being wrong more frequently (in my experience).

    Apple Maps did not, however, work at all in Belgrade. They literally have nothing but a pin for the city.

    So the lesson is, Apple Maps is an adequate choice (or sometimes even better) if you are living in a civilized part of Europe (as opposed to Belgrade or London). I kid, I kid! Seriously though, your experience will vary widely by what city was in. This was always true, really.

  18. James says:

    To be honest, even if Apple Maps used the same data as Google’s, I wouldn’t use it right now.

    I agree the UI of the app itself is marginally superior (though it’s not hard to learn the quirks of G’s app, and I like the new G brand style (in GMail iOS, Search and so on) in Apple’s Maps but the actual map rendering is years behind.

    How is showing almost all road sizes in the same colour (white) a good idea? Why is peppering the map with big circular points of interest that give a local sandwich shop the same visual priority as a tube station a good idea?

    Until Apple take some basic basic cartography lessons I think their app will be considerably lesser.

    3D Flyover is the a perfect example of form over function. It’s pretty once, but completely useless for any task you’d do on a map whatsoever. It’s exactly like Google Earth: really pretty and fun but nothing to do with ‘mapping’.

  19. trrll says:

    I expect that I’ll continue to use Apple Maps for most things, with Google Maps as a fallback if Apple Maps can’t find something. But I may return to Google Maps for transit routing, since its interface is a bit nicer than the other transit routing apps I’ve tried.

  20. Laws says:

    In the past, Facebook, and now Google - “Your privacy is of little concern to you”.

  21. Ted T. says:

    @James: Apple Maps are fine in Italy and demonstrably superior to Google in some places like Linosa.

    Apple maps suffered heavily from not considering your current location as paramount in searches: you ask for a Park Ave. address from a NYC location, and the pop-up “did you mean” chooser thingy wonders if you mean Park Ave. in Something-or-Other Texas. Stuff like that can’t be that hard to fix and needs to be fixed pronto.

    The other thing is public transportation (and biking): a disproportionate share of iPhone users live in cities and heavily use public transportation or bike. Integrating public transportation and biking direction in Apple Maps will have a huge impact on their usefulness for much of the target audience.

  22. JW says:

    Apple Maps are pathetic in Japan, suffering from gaping black holes, comically wrong labels, and a uniform lack of data for anything of significance — completely unusable. Seeing as how Japan is an important market that’s only just recently been won over by the iPhone, it’s difficult to see Apple’s mapping moves as anything but premature missteps here.

    Google, on the other hand, is typically on par with the local options (e.g., Yahoo Japan, Mapion) because they actually license data from companies that know what they’re doing. For Japan, that’s Zenrin. Apple might get there eventually, but at what cost to mindshare?

  23. Andy says:

    I live in the Bay Area and (in my experience) Apple maps is generally at least as good, if not better, than Google maps here. For point of interest finding, I find Apple maps much better. This is probably because Yelp is very popular here. I have to wonder if many people’s perception of Apple maps being terrible is due to all the negative press rather than experience. Anecdotally this is the case with many of my friends. I’m sure it’s bad in many places, especially outside the US, but I’ve yet to have any problems with it —- something I can’t say is true of Google maps.

    How is this not a win for Apple and for users? We now have two mapping apps that are better than the old maps app, and you know don’t have to have any info exposed to Google if you don’t want to expose it. I’ll probably only use Google maps for transit directions, but I’m happy to have it as an alternative.

    @James: completely agree about the info presented by Apple maps. You have to zoom in way too far to see many street names and business locations. I hope they eventually show information at a much higher density.

  24. Steven says:

    Yes, Apple has taken a PR hit, but people have short memories - this won’t be an issue a year from now. In the mean time, this is a win-win. How? Google gets the info it wants - great for Google, but only if the customer opts in - great for Apple. Google maintains its presence on the most lucrative of platforms - great for Google, Apple is able to stick to its principles concerning privacy - great for Apple. Google fosters an image of magnanimity - great for Google, Apple gets time to address the problem while the UX on its flagship device does not have to suffer the lack of a top flight mapping application - great for Apple.

  25. Davesmall says:

    As the author notes, before the release of Apple maps, the iOS version of Google Maps was inferior to the Android version. For example, there was no voice turn-by-turn navigation using Google Maps on the iPhone.

    Now iPhone users have the best of both. They can use the Apple maps, which I’ve been doing with zero complaints or problems. They can also download the new Google Maps app which is said to be even better than it’s Android counterpart. Clearly, the iPhone user experience has been improved by these competitive gyrations.

    Apple repeatedly says that their top priority is to provide the best possible user experience. I believe that’s why they approved the new Google app for the App Store. Now they can continue to improve Apple Maps while their customers enjoy both options.

    Another factor here is that a sizable percentage of iPhone users are not paying attention to the blogs and won’t even know there is a new Google Maps app available. Many of them won’t realize that the maps app changed when Apple replaced Google’s maps with their own. I don’t know how large this user segment is but I suspect larger than you would think. I’m repeatedly encountering iPhone users who just use it for the basics and don’t ever get very high up on the learning curve. These folks will stick with Apple maps.

  26. Terrin says:

    After downloading and testing out the new Google Maps App, I have to say 1) it is somewhat confusing to use, 2) in the two small trips I set up to give me turn by turn directions, it forgot on several occasions to make turns, and 3) it was slow at correcting for alternated routes.

    For example, after having the Google App search for a location, it isn’t exactly clear how to get this going with turn by turn directions. I live in Ann Arbor Michigan, where Google has its AdSense program located. There really isn’t any reason it should have goofed the turn by turn directions. It also was slow to devise alternative routes.

    On both trips, my girlfriend had the Apple Maps App dictate the way as well. It was easy using Siri; the maps are prettier, it didn’t forget to tell me to turn, and it corrected on the fly quicker.

    So, at least around me, I don’t think Apple has a lot to fear unless people really want street view.

  27. lmjabreu says:

    Everyone’s ignoring Foursquare and their POI database, which is as good or better than Google’s in terms of accuracy and has definitively more information. Apple should really use their data, just like they’re using TomTom/etc for map data.

  28. Khürt Williams says:

    @Ted T. says: “… a disproportionate share of iPhone users live in cities …”

    I think only people who live in cities think that.

  29. Marc Troy says:

    Apple Maps is horrific in vast parts of Europe. I travel a lot and Apple Maps made me furious. The data is so bad, there’s so many problem, I don’t think they can fix this within a few months.

    I’ve installed Google Maps and everything is back to normal. Who cares about vector maps, who cares about Streeview and 3D something. The most important part - again THE MOST IMPORTANT aspect is working maps. That’s all the counts. The rest is not important.

  30. Jeffrey R says:

    I work in a medical clinic that has give iPhone 5 to all of its doctors. Not a single one wanted to be upgrade to iOS 6 until Google Maps was available after one of them got stranded out in the middle of nowhere by the Apple Maps on their personal device.

    For me, I don’t understand why people like the 3D features? It only works well in big cities and remember a large percentage of people DON’T live in big cities. Street View is much more convenient when driving down a street and you want to be sure where to stop, especially when buildings are poorly marked.

  31. Vincent says:

    To be honest I own a iPhone 4S and the iPad Retina Display the 4th Generation since Apple has released IOS 6.0 till now Siri and Apple Maps is the best thing I ever seen I can find restaurants and movie and everything its the best if I had too give Apple thumbs up I half to give them a 100% what they have done for the OS for Apple.