Editors love controversy, especially when Apple is involved, and even better if Google is involved as well. Controversy leads to increased web traffic, and theoretically, salary raises for editors. Thus the minor topic of Apple’s Map app continues to dominate the tech press, and has even leaked out to general news coverage.
Counternotions asks, as part of its Apple MapsGate FAQ, a question I asked as well, namely what was Google’s role in all this? Did Google refuse to bring parity between Android Maps and iOS Maps for a strategic reason? Or spite? or what?
Q: Then why did Apple kick Google Maps off the iOS platform? Wouldn’t Apple have been better off offering Google Maps even while it was building its own map app? Shouldn’t Apple have waited?
A: Waited for what? For Google to strengthen its chokehold on a key iOS service? Apple has recognized the significance of mobile mapping and acquired several mapping companies, IP assets and talent in the last few years. Mapping is indeed one of the hardest of mobile services, involving physical terrestrial and aerial surveying, data acquisition, correction, tile making and layer upon layer of contextual info married to underlying data, all optimized to serve often under trying network conditions. Unfortunately, like dialect recognition or speech synthesis (think Siri), mapping is one of those technologies that can’t be fully incubated in a lab for a few years and unleashed on several hundred million users in more than a 100 countries in a “mature” state. Thousands of reports from individuals around the world, for example, have helped Google correct countless mapping failures over the last half decade. Without this public exposure and help in the field, a mobile mapping solution like Apple’s stands no chance.
Q: So why not keep using a more established solution like Google’s?
A: Clearly, no one outside Mountain View and Cupertino can say who’s forced the parties to come to this state of affairs. Did Google, for example, want to extract onerous concessions from Apple involving more advertising leeway, user data collection, clickstream tracking and so on? Thanks to the largest fine in FTC’s history Google had to pay (don’t laugh!), we already know how desperate Google is for users’ data and how cavalier it is with their privacy. Maybe Apple didn’t like Google’s terms, maybe it was the other way around, perhaps both parties agreed it was best to have two separate apps available…we don’t know. After well-known episodes with Microsoft, Adobe and others, what we do know is that Apple has a justifiable fear of key third parties dictating terms and hindering its rate of innovation. It’s thus understandable why Apple would want to wrest control of its independence from its chief rival on its most important product line.
Q: Does Apple have nothing but contempt for its users?
A: Yes, Apple’s evil. When Apple barred Flash from iOS, Flash was the best and only way to play .swf files. Apple’s video alternative, H.264, wasn’t nearly as widely used. Thus Apple’s solution was “inferior” and appeared to be against its own users’ interests. Sheer corporate greed! Trillion words have been written about just how misguided Apple was in denying its users the glory of Flash on iOS. Well, Flash is now dead on mobile. And yet the Earth’s obliquity of the ecliptic is still about 23.4°. We seemed to have survived that one.
(click here to continue reading Apple Maps: The FAQ « counter notions.)
Jean-Louis Gassée adds re: the Apple Maps conversation a salient point, namely that Apple gave no hint that Maps was in its early stages:
The ridicule that Apple has suffered following the introduction of the Maps application in iOS 6 is largely self-inflicted. The demo was flawless, 2D and 3D maps, turn-by-turn navigation, spectacular flyovers…but not a word from the stage about the app’s limitations, no self-deprecating wink, no admission that iOS Maps is an infant that needs to learn to crawl before walking, running, and ultimately lapping the frontrunner, Google Maps. Instead, we’re told that Apple’s Maps may be “the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever.”
After the polished demo, the released product gets a good drubbing: the Falkland Islands are stripped of roads and towns, bridges and façades are bizarrely rendered, an imaginary airport is discovered in a field near Dublin. Pageview-driven commenters do the expected. After having slammed the “boring” iPhone 5, they reversed course when preorders exceed previous records, and now they reverse course again when Maps shows a few warts.
Even Joe Nocera, an illustrious NYT writer, joins the chorus with a piece titled Has Apple Peaked? Note the question mark, a tired churnalistic device, the author hedging his bet in case the peak is higher still, lost in the clouds. The piece is worth reading for its clichés, hyperbole, and statements of the obvious: “unmitigated disaster”, “the canary in the coal mine”, and “Jobs isn’t there anymore”, tropes that appear in many Maps reviews.
(The implication that Jobs would have squelched Maps is misguided. I greatly miss Dear Leader but my admiration for his unsurpassed successes doesn’t obscure my recollection of his mistakes. The Cube, antennagate, Exchange For The Rest of Us [a.k.a MobileMe], the capricious skeuomorphic shelves and leather stitches… Both Siri — still far from reliable — and Maps were decisions Jobs made or endorsed.)
Re-reading Joe Nocera’s piece, I get the impression that he hasn’t actually tried Maps himself. Nor does he point out that you can still use Google Maps on an iPhone or iPad:
The process is dead-simple: Add maps.google.com as a Web App on your Home Screen and voilà, Google Maps without waiting for Google to come up with a native iOS app, or for Apple to approve it. Or you can try other mapping apps such as Navigon. Actually, I’m surprised to see so few people rejoice at the prospect of a challenger to Google’s de facto maps monopoly.
(click here to continue reading Apple Maps: Damned If You Do, Googled If You Don’t | Monday Note.)
Also, glad to see that others think as little of Joe Nocera as I do.
More on the benefits of iOS users feeding Google’s insatiable data maw – benefits for Google that is – from Fortune’s Philip Elmer-Dewitt:
Unbeknownst to me, I’ve been feeding geographical information into Google’s (GOOG) mapping database for years — searching for addresses, sharing my location, checking for traffic jams on Google Maps. Google, for its part, has been scraping that data for every nugget of intelligence its computers can extract. Without consciously volunteering, I’ve been participating in a massive crowdsourcing experiment — perhaps the largest the world has ever seen. Who knows what I might have been teaching Google Maps if I’d been navigating the surface of the planet with an Android phone in my pocket?
Apple, by building its much-loved (and now much-missed) iPhone Maps app on Google’s mapping database, has been complicit in this Herculean data collection exercise since the launch of the first iPhone in 2007. The famous Google cars that drive up and down the byways of the world collecting Street View images get most of the attention, but it’s the billions upon billions of data points supplied by hundreds of millions of users that make Google Maps seem so smart and iOS 6’s new Maps app seem so laughably stupid.
(click here to continue reading Why Apple pulled the plug on Google Maps – Apple 2.0 – Fortune Tech.)