Maps may become biggest Google-Apple showdown

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
27 Sep 2012

However, it may have put its political rivalries ahead of customer experience, with its homegrown offering suffering a storm of criticism.

Apple's mapping app is visually striking, with a heavy focus on 3D options, and has some new functions such as turn-by-turn navigation. But early users say it lacks several key features of the Google alternative, previously the default on the iPhone. These include street views, public transport routing, traffic information, and the listing of nearby points of interest.

There are also criticisms of lack of detail and accuracy, especially outside major urban areas. These were weaknesses in all the location systems in their early days, but Google and Nokia have invested heavy resources in making their apps comprehensive, and Apple's attempt indicates that a deep maps platform cannot be created overnight, even with the iPhone maker's resources and its string of location related acquisitions.

Google is expected to launch its own Maps app for iOS 6, as it did when Apple dropped the embedded YouTube from its platform. Although it is losing the significant advantage of being the preinstalled option, forcing users actively to seek out its offerings, that process should be encouraged by the furore around a sub-standard Apple Maps.

However, if Google does unveil its own product, the dispute could escalate rapidly if Apple chooses to block it – it has a track record of striking back against apps which replicate its core iOS functionality, and with so many mobile revenue streams now being related to user location and identity, this is a battleground Apple cannot afford to cede.

However, at that point, the argument would become the biggest test so far of the Apple model and how far it can exert control over its platform without alienating users by depriving them of the best possible experience – or at least letting them choose what that is.

“My expectation is that they would block Google's maps application from their apps store, which they tightly control,” Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group recently told LightReading. “If they do allow it I think they would do their level best to cripple it.”

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