To Map Or Not To Map
Mon, Sep 24, 12
For over a decade, Microsoft — the monopolist of its era — treated its customers on Macs as second-class. Its Office suite never achieved parity with its Windows sibling, even when the differences were not dictated by platform architectures. Whether it was document compatibility, font-metrics, macros, integration with other Microsoft software or myriad other gotchas, Mac versions were always lacking. Every new version of Office promised better compatibility but never really delivered it. Worse, Microsoft never quite integrated Apple-grown technologies into Office to better blend it into the Mac ecosystem, claiming it would break cross-platform compatibility with the Windows versions.
Sadly, this wasn’t an occasional inconvenience but a source of daily frustration for millions of paying customers, corporations and individuals alike. With business so dependent on Office, Microsoft’s message was loud and clear: if you want the real thing switch to Windows.
Sufficiently annoyed by all the trouble, some users did.
Most didn’t, and haven’t forgiven Microsoft ever since.
Therein lies a lesson for Google
Today, we know that the iOS version of Google Maps has been inferior to its Android sibling for sometime, turn-by-turn directions being the most obvious example. Clearly, Google and Apple have far better ability to integrate apps into their own respective mobile ecosystems, but we don’t really know the contractual, commercial and even technical considerations for the disparity in this particular case.
So far this has not been a major issue. In the future, it may be a different matter. In Apple’s Feud With Google Is Now Felt on iPhone, New York Times says:
But [Google] would not say whether it was building an iPhone app for users to download. Its only public statement on the matter has been vague: “Our goal is to make Google Maps available to everyone who wants to use it, regardless of device, browser, or operating system.”
Google could decide not to build an app, as a gamble that iPhone users depend on its maps so much that they might switch to Android. [Emp. added]
After outsmarting and outspending its then-chief rival MapQuest, Google has been dominating mobile maps on phones for half a decade. From a corporate rivalry standpoint, Google is in an enviable position at the moment, certainly amused by the current kerfuffle around the iOS 6 Maps app.
However, it would be monumentally myopic of Google management to “decide not to build an [iOS native map] app” or to think Apple Maps’s lack of polish will cause any meaningful migration of iOS users to Android or that Apple management would let that happen. In the end, Google management may be hypocritical but, unlike their loud amen corner in the Comments section, they’re likely not blind to obvious realities.
Samsung may have become the biggest smartphone seller by volume, but I’m sure even Andy Rubin realizes Samsung doesn’t have 400+ million users (each with a credit card account) who have proven themselves to be the world’s most lucrative online demographics. These users have invested billions in Apple’s media and app ecosystem. They are the happiest bunch whenever product satisfaction surveys are taken. They upgrade regularly. They are loyal. They frequent Apple Stores with alarming regularity. They wait in line, rain or shine. They are not going anywhere.
There’s, of course, the other side of the coin. Reports argue that Google makes much more from iOS than its own Android. Since I don’t believe any numbers coming out of Mountain View (not that Google ever officially discloses meaningful Android numbers anyway) no one really knows the footprint of Google Maps on Google’s balance sheet. I suspect not much. However, for Google that makes all its money from advertising, being able to harvest spatiotemporal user data to triangulate purchasing intent must be priceless.
Every time an iOS user interacts with Google Maps, directly or through other apps that use its API, Google gets extremely useful data that soothe its search and advertising pangs, tens of millions of times a day around the globe. For Google (and now Apple) maps are an input modality to discover user intent, perhaps only rivaled by command line search and social network affinity graphs.
But direct financial contribution is not the most important rationale for Google Maps on iOS. One of the key reasons why Google has better data than Apple is the fact that for many years users of Google Maps have been sending corrections to Google, which has improved its accuracy significantly. So by not submitting Google Maps to the App Store, Google would not only give up a very significant portion of its mobile revenue, but more importantly, it would self-induce a debilitating data-blindness on the world’s most lucrative mobile ecosystem.
If Apple does admit Google Maps into the App Store, iOS devices (where Apple makes its money) would be the only mobile platform that offers both Google and Apple map apps. Of course, Google could submit such an app and Apple could reject it. Then, as Jean-Louis Gassée would say, Damned If You Google, FTC‘ed If You Don’t.