The iOS Maps and Google Maps Debacle: Why Most People Don't Care

15 December, 2012 06:38AM · 4 minute read

Big businesses are concerned with meeting the needs of the majority of their customers especially in the consumer electronics space. It is possible to serve niche markets with niche devices that are expensive but sell in smaller volumes and still walk away with profit but in general that’s a business most businesses don’t want to be in.

Through innovation and customer focus Apple have produced some amazing products recently including the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad and all are targeted at the mass consumer market. In order to pull it off they needed to rely on third parties to provide key elements that they originally lacked with partners such as Yahoo, Google, Skyhook Wireless and so on. Google in particular had two things Apple wanted: a good search engine and mapping data.

As Apples iOS software evolved (the operating system software that runs iPhones, iPod Touches and iPads) they added more and more features and began to gradually replace their third-party content with offerings of their own. As of iOS version 6, this included Googles Map information. They had decided to do this, one year before their contract with Google expired (it may well have been extended if they had wished to do so) however Google had placed restrictions on Apple such that they could not use turn by turn navigation or the ability to pivot and rotate a map through 360 degrees (Google only allowed use of its static images that couldn’t easily be rotated beyond the 0, 90, and 270 degrees on smaller iOS devices). This was despite the fact that Google themselves had already been providing those features on their own competing platform (Android) for over a year prior to this.

Apple had written the original Maps application in iOS and all that was Googles was the data behind it. For their own Maps offering in iOS6 Apple partnered with other third parties as well as developing their own information internally and produced an excellent Maps application. It did have a few omissions with no public transport information, no street view and many, many serious flaws with its newly obtained and generated map information. On the plus side it introduced a 3D fly-over through major cities around the world (not mine though) that Google later added to their own maps. Google had been developing Maps data for many years before Apple and had a substantial head start. In the months since its release Apple had plugged many of the map data holes and the service improves daily and will continue to improve until it equals or exceeds Googles offering for map data, points of interest and satellite imagery. Their fly-over option is still far superior to Googles offering on any platform but remains the only big feature Apple is ahead on.

Google yesterday released their own application written for iOS (download it from the App Store) that brings the big ticket items that are missing from Apple Maps back to iOS along with their own, more mature map data. In order to keep bookmarks however you will need a Google account and you must sign in first and contact locations aren’t available on either the iOS device or the Google account side. This lack of integration of contact and bookmark locations¬†is one of the few missing pieces but in general, the Android Maps experience is now mostly available on iOS and the data is much better.

I’ve been spoiled over the years with Apples intuitive interfaces and Googles Maps interface is distinctly different from Apples offering. It took me about 30 minutes to figure out where street view was and the lack of bookmarking was a major pain. My city doesn’t get transit information nor does it get fly over but Apple have quickly fixed every bug I have reported with Maps in my area and their maps data is good enough for what I need. I will keep the Google Maps app for Street view perhaps but that is all.

Apple wanted to provide the best experience for their users and Google was holding them back. Their first offering, just like Google Maps many years ago, had serious holes in it but with Apples resources they are plugging those holes very quickly. The experience of using Apple Maps is still far superior to Google Maps in terms of user interface and if you don’t care about transit information or street view and there are few reasons to use Google Maps at all. With time Apple will add more features (likely in iOS 7) and their data will meet or exceed Googles. This is a certainty. In a few years we will be looking back wondering what the big fuss was all about.