To Map Or Not To Map

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.

Some dilemma.

12 thoughts on “To Map Or Not To Map

  1. searchland blog is saying that Apple signed two year deal this year for continuation of maps which will prevent google from
    submitting their own app until the contract expires.
    If this scenario is true than it has to be most brilliant move ever conceived by Apple in history of corporations.

  2. What Apple should do is to develop a set of online map tools, just like Google’s, so users could add/correct data

  3. I think you have definitely cut to the quick and summed up the crux of this entire matter most succinctly. Nice writing. Thanks for the perspective.

    Back to your last post(if I may) for just a moment. I’ve had a week now to try out the turn by turn (in the Canadian city that I have grown up in) and found them to be completely accurate. Hopefully things work out just as well on my upcoming vacation to Orlando, Florida.

    I’ve read quite a few of the replies from your previous post. I don’t doubt many of the complaints, especially in regards to business searches. But many of the comments were so negative and so grossly over-emotive that it can hardly be helped that much of it left me feeling as when someone feigns an injury. Or is puffed up with false indignation. It reminded me of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are;


    It’s a story of power and powerlessness. Particularly the powerlessness. And the roaring and gnashing and fear induced bravado that can become of being powerless when things change that are completely out of your control.

    Returning to your current post. Your analysis quite cogently points out that while there will be short term pain for Apple (pain that can be mitigated), there will be a more significant long term loss for Google. Hence the importance of capitalizing as quickly as possible on this sudden, but virtually certain brief chink in Apple’s armour. Even today, with the weekend behind us, one can already sense the sober awakenings in some of the media stories.

    There are actually reports from China that overwhelmingly indicate iOS maps is significantly more accurate than Google’s. There is more discussion arount the actual UI. And for the first time, I can use Maps without my reading glasses. At a glance, the information I need is presented clearly, and concisely; instead of having to study the damn app at every red light. This is a big, big plus for me and speaks to the thoughtfulness of the interface. I didn’t realize how much I struggled with the old data. Technically, Apple’s iOS Map UI is superior. Period. This App has massive potential. It’s definitely becoming more apparent that for Apple, this situation is nowhere near as dire as what some would have us believe.

    As you so clearly point out, it’s no idle mention when Apple reports the number of credit card accounts registered with iTunes has reached 400,000,000. That’s a deliberate (and cogent) display of power. And regardless of what is posted on the comments – it’s obvious that Google will feel pain going forward not having access to the data those same 400 hundred million users generate in Maps. That’s powerlessness. And as so often happens in these kinds I situations, the flow of power takes on an inertia. Tim Cook waves goodbye to the wild things. And there will naturally be gnashing and baring of teeth and claws. But to not avail.

    • Who are you and what have you done with the Android and Google trolls?

      Your use of the English language does not occur on the web very often, so I cannot decide which passage is my favorite. However this one struck a cord:
      “But many of the comments were so negative and so grossly over-emotive that it can hardly be helped that much of it left me feeling as when someone feigns an injury. Or is puffed up with false indignation. It reminded me of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are;”

      Please return to this wasteland when you can.

    • Well said Sir. Both analysis and prose. Agree with Grwisher. A pleasure to read. More please, at your convenience. The Dr.

  4. This is what I have been saying from the beginning.
    Apple will wake up tomorrow and have better maps. Google will wake up tomorrow and have a much lousier user-base.

    • Oh wow, Google potentially abusing OpenStreetMap to deliberately sabotage the mapping efforts of others – that makes uncomfortable sense. And fits with their ongoing perversion of “open”.

      In fact, there seems to be a general trend of ethics deficiency at Google – even when they don’t *have* to lie to make the iPhone look bad, they lie anyway:

      Microsoft continues to resort to a lot of dirty tricks to prop up their Office monopoly (read up on the OOXML ISO standardization process to get your blood to boil), so it’s no surprise that Google would likewise resort to dirty tricks to maintain their areas of monopoly power.

  5. The real nightmare scenario for google is if
    Apple brings out vector based maps for the browser.
    that would make google maps look like mapquest.
    So far no one has dissected the new app to see what kind
    of vector format is Apple using.

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