Steve Jobs famously quipped that he would go to “thermonuclear war” with Google, over his perception that the latter “stole” many of the concepts and design of the iPhone and iOS. While there’s little benefit to arguing that point one way or another, it appears we have our first major casualty of Apple’s war with Google on the mapping front.
If you haven’t followed the usual brouhaha that accompanies the release of a new iPhone, among the new features of the device is an in-house mapping program, that replaces Google Maps. Google Maps was included with every version of iOS, but slowly began to lag behind the version of the product shipped with Google’s own Android mobile OS, missing key features like spoken navigation and detailed reviews of local establishments.
Apple announced it would part ways with Google, and dumped Google’s You Tube video service from the iPhone while announcing it’s own mapping application. A raft of “he said, she said” emanated from both camps, with Google claiming it would gladly update it’s iOS maps application, and Apple declining. However, today it became clear that Apple has some “work to do” (as admitted by their PR folks) on the mapping application, while end users are a lot less generous. Apple’s maps have problems ranging from landmarks like the Washington Monument misplaced, to so little detail in some countries as to make them useless, to a complete absence of transit directions, a really great feature when you’re in an unfamiliar city. The navigation component even suggests a swim, or perhaps really long leap, over the Hudson River in Manhattan rather than a nearby bridge or tunnel.
With Google having reduced mapping to what amounts to a commodity, and Microsoft also a major player, one wonders what Apple hopes to gain investing hundreds of millions merely to reach parity with these two giants, all while frustrating and angering users. While Apple users are inordinately loyal to the company, history is littered with companies that got distracted, or took customers for granted, arguably including Apple during it’s “dark days” without Jobs. While there are surely some benefits to controlling all aspects of your mobile OS, bringing mapping in house looks like a high-risk proposition with correspondingly little upside.
I’m looking forward to the arrival of my own iPhone 5, and will be interested to see how Apple copes with its mapping problems. As someone who travels frequently and has come to rely on mobile mapping, I hope Apples seemingly misdirected efforts don’t literally misdirect me.