Apple Sheds Maps Humiliation and Gets the Last Laugh
Nov 14, 2013 5:00 AM PT
Apple angered millions of iPhone users -- and baffled millions more -- when it ditched the generally functional built-in Google-based Maps app in favor of its own. That was last year, when it introduced iOS 6. Howls of anger rocketed across the Web, and fanboys of other platforms -- including some Apple enthusiasts -- started tracking Apple Maps fails.
We saw screen shots of issues like freeway systems that were cut off, streets that went nowhere, airports that were misplaced or magically created, houses that disappeared, and areas of Earth that looked melted, as if some hot rock from Mars fell from the sky.
Small businesses found themselves located in weird places, and most everyone seemed to laugh at Apple's mediocre attempt at such a critical and important app. Soon Google would release its own third-party Google Maps app, and Apple would be forced to approve it -- and everyone could go back to using Google Maps.
The first two things happened, but the third -- back to using Google Maps -- not so much.
Fast-Forward to Now
A new comScore report including data through September details smartphone market share in the U.S. and notes the top-used apps. Diving a little deeper into the numbers, Charles Arthur for The Guardian reported how Google maps lost nearly 23 million mobile users in the U.S. after Apple pulled its maps switcheroo.
The Maps switch summarily moved generally happy Google Maps users to an inferior product, all of which resulted in a public relations nightmare for Apple -- prompting a public apology from CEO Tim Cook, who also referred his customers to other maps apps. Instead of making Google stronger, though, the numbers now seem to indicate that Apple came out ahead.
In September 2012, there were 81.1 million users of Google Maps out of a total 103.6 million iPhones and Android users, according to the comScore data. A year later, the total number of Google Maps users dropped to 43 percent of iPhone and Android users -- 58.7 million, despite the user base actually growing to 136.7 million, Arthur reported.
Any way you cut it, that's a massive decline in Google Maps use. As for Apple, 35 million iPhone owners used Apple's Maps app at least once during the month of September this year, comScore said.
Google to Apple: 'No Turn-by-Turn Directions for You!'
The consensus is that the whole issue erupted because Google seemed to be looking for a competitive advantage over the iPhone by not bringing turn-by-turn directions to the built-in iPhone app -- even when the feature was working for Android phones already. That supposedly prompted Apple to act (but I tend to imagine the company planned to move anyway).
What I find really interesting is what Apple seems to have learned from this experience: not to let third-parties control its core functionality on its own device. What this led to was a whole new blast of innovation from Apple. Case in point? By investing in mapping companies and creating its own system of maps as a set of services, Apple could suddenly create a dedicated Maps app for OS X.
Now, in OS X Mavericks, Maps lets Apple extend its universe by enabling features that make sense for its ecosystem: You can plan a trip on your big-screen Mac with the tactile keyboard and then send directions or a location to your iPhone.
Through iCloud, you can bookmark locations and routes across all your devices. Because Maps is integrated into OS X apps, too, you now can have Mail, Messages or your Calendar app automatically detect addresses and display them in inline maps.
Plus -- and this really impressed me -- as I was just using the Maps app to find a location in Chicago, I flicked the surface of my Magic Mouse to navigate to O'Hare. That was an Apple-using intuitive gesture. I didn't think about it, I just did it, and Maps reacted perfectly.
These are some of the things that let Apple innovate.
There are others, though, like the upcoming and teased iOS in the Car ("coming soon") that will seamlessly integrate your iOS device with your car's in-dash system. If your car is equipped, you can control your iPhone, use controls on your car, and use Siri Eyes Free to make calls, play music, send and receive messages -- and of course, get directions, which uses Maps.
Sometimes, it turns out, even Apple has to do ugly non-Apple things -- like introduce a shoddy Maps experience -- in order to get itself back out in front with total, seamless, awesome integration.
In the meantime, all of us ought to continue using Apple's Maps with a grain of salt. While I haven't tried to navigate directly into the middle of an airport using turn-by-turn directions (which directed drivers to cross a runway at Fairbanks International Airport -- just this September, no less), I still see small towns haphazardly misplaced in the middle of Northwestern forests.