Mapsgate is Not the End of the Road

Mapsgate is Not the End of the RoadSo the new default Maps app in the first release of iOS 6 is a dud according to most of the world — who am I to argue?

Apple no longer felt that working directly with Google was advantageous to the iOS platform, and as a YouTube content producer, I’m beyond thrilled about Apple dropping the official iOS YouTube app. Its removal will not stop users from going to YouTube. If anything, it’ll give users a better YouTube experience (as well as make sure producers get paid for a substantial amount of mobile platform views).

I also don’t think that the removal of Google as the default maps data provider will deter people from using Google Maps on their iOS device (through Safari or a possibly impending app). Though, as a person who relies on mapping every so often, I’m not very excited about cutesy flyovers if the underlying data validity is in question. That should improve with time, but: (a) how much time will it take for Maps not to suck, (b) will users report issues as they find them, and (c) will this deter people from buying iOS devices? Those are the questions that we cannot answer — lest we stir the pot with further FUD.

But Apple doesn’t owe the world the best device for Google services.

So what could Apple do? Continue to give Google direct access to its customer base? No, it won’t. Renew “the contract” for some unknown amount of months or years at a calculated cost? Not likely. Removing the Maps app as a default? That would spark even more of a controversy. Rely on third-party app developers to fill in the gaps? I think that’s going to be the company’s response.

Apple is not going to capitulate and bring Google back into the default zone. It would likely accept a Google Maps app submission (like it’s accepted a dozen Google app submissions before), but it’s likely to point you to existing options on iOS — free or paid — perhaps even subsidizing a leading GPS / turn-by-turn app to offer as an alternative. With dozens at Apple’s disposal, it’s not quite backed into a corner… yet.

Google makes money from its products (and the product would be you and your attention, not its software, since you don’t pay anything and get to see ads in exchange for usage). Apple makes money from its hardware (it wants to enable a good software experience, though it’s seemingly missed the mark with the first public version of Maps). Why wouldn’t Google want to serve its customers (the advertisers, not you) on any possible platform? More important, why should Apple care?

Well, up until iOS 6, Apple yielded to Google for a good “maps” experience. It’s cut ties and released version 1.0 of its idea of what mapping software could be. Was it a good move? It depends on your perspective. For Apple, it was one less opportunity to fuel its competitor. For Google, it was one less opportunity to get a massive amount of impressions for its customers (the advertisers, not the users). For the user, it happens to be a draw (finally, a turn-by-turn navigation default — skewered by a rather disjointed data set).

Any of y’all remember Google Chrome 1.0? It sucked. Hell, until version 10, I wouldn’t dream of touching or recommending it to anybody. But software evolves and (typically) gets better with time. Today, Google Chrome is my default browser on OS X — even though I can see that Safari certainly renders faster and runs more efficiently. There are always going to be trade-offs. Apple’s made a trade-off by cutting off Google, but hasn’t necessarily left the user in the lurch (as some would have you believe). If Apple had no App Store with a plenitude of mapping or GPS apps, this would be far more dramatic an event.

Just as Android fans are quick to tell you that you can install another keyboard onto your device, you can just as readily use an alternative GPS app on iOS (perhaps not with all the niceties like being able to view turn-by-turn from the lock screen, but it’s far from inconvenient). To get a good keyboard experience on Android, I found myself *paying* for a keyboard app to replace the default, so the idea of having to pay for software that doesn’t come as a default on any platform is far from an outlandish idea.

Perhaps Apple wasn’t ready to release its own Maps, but was forced to do so after its contract with Google expired? We simply do not know. In fact, given how iOS users (not just geeks) have reacted, I’d be inclined to believe that its hand was forced — but why wouldn’t Apple label Maps a beta as it did Siri? Again, we simply do not know.

What’s “right” (once again) is relative. Is it “right” to ship a sub-standard mapping experience? Depends. From Apple’s perspective, it’d continue to yield more value to a competitor. From a user’s perspective, they’re receiving a watered-down version of the mapping experience to which they’ve grown accustomed (from Apple, many not knowing or caring that Google provided the data). Was it right to start somewhere? Yes. Was this the best time to reveal it? No, in the short-term; yes, in the long-term.

Someone (desperately) suggested that Apple should have kept Google Maps side-by-side with the new iOS Maps as a default until iOS Maps worked better. Splitting the user’s attention by offering two options that seemingly do the same thing is a horrendous idea. The same person went on to suggest that Google should ship iOS software to draw more people into an alternative platform, which was also a flawed premise (why would you switch to another platform if your current platform is being serviced by such ample software)?

Will Google ship Maps for iOS? Not having any sources, I’d still say it’s a foregone conclusion; Google has shipped apps for pretty much every one of its leading services (from Search to Drive to Mail). When will that happen? Well, it depends on how quickly Google engineers can whip up something — and how quickly Apple will approve its App Store submission.

For the current default iOS Maps app to improve, Apple will be hoping that users will submit data corrections on a regular basis, and there are enough iOS users out there that it’s possible to improve the database quicker than other companies might have been able to do. And “open” advocates might note that some data is being pulled from OpenStreetMap. I suppose that might put someone who hates Apple in a quandary.

Should you not buy an iOS 6 device because it doesn’t have an amazing mapping experience out-of-the-box? Depends on your priorities. If you already use a third-party iOS GPS app, this is all a non-issue. If you held off on iOS because you were waiting for a Google Maps killer, you’re going to be waiting a while longer. Is Maps the only value in iOS (6 or otherwise)? Hardly. Is the Maps app perfect? Far from it. Will it improve? Yes. Will it be “good enough?” That remains to be seen.

I’m incredibly forgiving with the technology around me; Heaven knows how many times I’ve puzzled over why my car’s new nav system steered me in the wrong direction (up a hill with a road that didn’t exist). That didn’t make me want to pull the unit out of the dash, return the vehicle, and demand my money back. Perhaps I’m too forgiving, I suppose. I certainly do not expect products or services to improve if I do not provide feedback, however. Sometimes, that feedback is silent and I opt to vote with my spending habits. Sometimes, that feedback is direct and I opt to provide guidance to the provider to help it make something a better experience for everybody.

There are always trade-offs (unless you’re the only person to have dissevered a permanent tech solution Utopia). Where do you draw the line? Hey, that’s up to you. Just like Apple had to draw the line… even though it may not be able to tell you where to find that line. Today.

Apple is not infallible (never has been), but I’m guessing it’s willing to take a short-term loss for a long-term gain (especially against Google). Until then, if you’re bothered, use another app? Or there’s always this:

Article Written by

Chris has consistently expressed his convictions and visions outright, supplying practical information to targeted audiences: media agencies, business owners, technology consumers, software and hardware professionals, et al. He remains a passionate personality in the tech community-at-large. He's a geek.

  • Malte Steckmeister

    Google Chrome was way better than all others browsers from day one. Nu sucking whatsoever 😉 The new maps are indefinitely inferior. THAT sucks, keeps me from upgrading to iOS6 and can well damage the image of Apple.

    • Chris Pirillo

      Google Chrome v1.0 was not awesomeballs. :) Hah. HAH HAH HAH! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!
      Use a third-party app, or switch to another platform. *shrug*

      • gautam divekar

        have you tried ie10 ??? review it !!!

  • Arson_XY

    Wow! This a very solid written article! Great job Chris! This article basically sums up all of my bottled up feelings about all of the iOS6 haters out there. Thanks Chris! :)

  • Adam Smith

    The slick veneer is coming away, and Apple is coming back to the pack. Some reviews online with IPhone 5’s launch were hilarious – showing off the cutesy flyover apps, which looked like it would be useful for all of 10 seconds
    Stating the obvious now to say the IPhone 5 launch mainly had impact on current Iphone 4/4S users who were guilt led into realising their phone is no longer the latest – its now just heavier and thicker than the latest version – buy buy buy
    I personally will never purchase a phone of any brand that has a nonremovable battery – both for environmental reasons (the phones shelflife cant be extended once the battery has expired, ie with a new battery), and because when phones crash I find a very very useful way to fix the problem is often remove/replace the battery. Quicker than going to the Apple store.
    For the record I have a dumbphone Nokia. Given the choice of using the internet on a phone (I can see the great advantages) or using a USB modem on my Netbook, I will choose the latter at this point. But I am sure when I can afford a new smartphone an a new internet plan, I will get a smartphone with a nice large screen 😉

    • Chris Pirillo

      The cutsey flyovers were just as bubble gum as they were in Google Earth, but I’m not holding that against Google.
      And, moreover… I wasn’t guilt-led into anything.

      It almost sounds like you’re not speaking from direct experience with an iOS device, but from an armchair far away? If that’s the case, I’m not sure I can accept your perspective as valid in this conversation. It’s like complaining about the taste of food you’ve never had in your mouth.

      • Adam Smith

        Fair comment Chris. My response is that Apple is an acquired taste for the true believers. And point accepted, I dont have that refined taste
        Dont give me the premium wine when for the same price I can buy one from an alternative vineyard and have spare change besides :)

        • Chris Pirillo

          I drink boxed wine. :)

  • Adam Thompson

    I’m not an IOS user, so I can only go off what I’ve read online, but I think that Apple may have been better off finding a way to transition this change over time (as they do with most all of their changes). This is, of course, assuming that they weren’t forced to stop using Google maps like you suggested.

    I’m a fan of open software platforms, so I definitely like that a company like apple is going with the open maps platform. I also believe that the IOS maps will improve a great deal over time. Most users don’t like change, however, and IOS maps as compared to Google Maps is a pretty big difference. I think it would have been far more wise to slowly transition to it.

    Like I said, however, I can’t say too much about the new maps since I don’t actually use IOS, but rather this is my perspective based purely off what I’ve read thus far.

    • Chris Pirillo

      I *really* believe their hand was forced on this. All signs point to that as the reason this was shipped in its current state.

      • Adam Thompson

        I would have to agree just from my experience with other Apple products. They’ve always been quite good at gradually transitioning their users over to a new experience.

  • orbitly

    Google announced that it would come out by the holiday season.

  • Tinu

    I like it. And it’s not like Google maps is blocked on Safari.

  • iamstephen85

    So far my experience of business listing in the UK are either patchy, non existent or inaccurate.

    I’ve personally used “Waze” from the app store for over 6 month’s and found it to be a fantastic free turn by turn navigation alternative, one I feel Apple could take a look at and adopt some features from.

    Within Waze i personally like the ability to report incorrect road layouts, traffic jams and speed camera locations whilst navigating but the biggest by far is searching for nearby businesses using various sources such as waze, google, bing and foursquare and this is where i feel Apple fall’s short.

    Maybe Apple could rent rather than buy business information, POI etc from Google at a reduced rate instead of trying to create their own?

    I for one will be using various mapping solutions for various tasks when my iPhone 5 arrives.

    -Google maps for business, restaurant searching.

    -Apple for turn by turn due to it’s Siri and Contact integration

    -Waze as a backup turn by turn app when Apple’s get’s lost.

    Best of both world’s and all free.