Apple loses its bite

John C. Tanner
11 Oct 2012

You don't need me to tell you that Apple's decision to drop support for Google Maps in favor of its own Maps application has been the biggest PR disaster for the company since the AntennaGate hoo-ha with the iPhone 4.

At press time, reports continue to flood in about the app's various inaccuracies, particularly outside the US. In Japan, for example, Maps is so riddled with erroneous info that local map service Mapion saw a threefold increase in downloads for its iPhone app (launched just a few months ago) in the first week of the iPhone 5's release, according to the New York Times.

Interestingly, this is not the case in China. According to the Wall Street Journal, Apple developed a separate version of Maps specifically for China in partnership with local mapping services provider AutoNavi. And by most accounts, it's more accurate than international versions of Maps (as long as you only use it in China, anyway - Chinese users looking for maps outside of China will find some data missing like landmarks and public transportation stops).

Moreover, according to China-based technology blogger Anthony Drendel, Apple's Maps is a vast improvement over Google Maps in China, especially outside of the big urban cities and tourist centers. (The Chinese government's tight regulation of mapping services, and its strained relationship with Google, may or may not be a factor.)

Either way, the fact that Apple had to do a separate version of Maps for China illustrates just how hard it is to build a reliable and usable mapping app - and Maps' problems elsewhere demonstrates further just how far ahead Google is in the maps game (remember Google Maps has been around since 2005) and how far behind Apple is.

And that matters far more than things like whether, say, the iPhone 5 supports micro-USB. Having to pony up for an adapter is one thing. Being forced to give up an app that works well in favor of a proprietary app that doesn't is something else entirely, because we're not just talking about any old app here. We're talking about a mapping app that harnesses one of the key attributes of mobile - location - and has already become central to many users' lives.

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