Apple recently abandoned Google Maps in favor of their own home-grown solution.
Or did they?
Before we dive too deep it’s important to underscore the fact that iOS never had a “Google Maps” app, rather, it had a Maps app that used the Google Maps API. Perhaps that’s nit-picking, but understanding the difference will help us understand the reasons for the decision to abandon Google’s maps (API) and go with their own.
What’s an API?
API stands for “application programming interface”, it’s a specification through which software components can communicate with each other. In this case, the Maps app communicates with the Google Maps API in order to get back map data that is then displayed inside the app. This isn’t free, for obvious reasons.
APIs are usually very specific to doing just one task, and doing that one task very well. Other tasks, though they may be related, are better handled by a separate API. In this case location-based check-ins and turn-by-turn directions are separate (but still related) APIs.
Why did Apple abandon a working solution for something else?
Reportedly Apple still has a year left on their Maps API contract with Google. Why would they cut ties and go their own direction? You guessed it, it was what wasn’t included in the original contract: other APIs. Apple wanted turn-by-turn directions in their Maps app, but according to sources Google wanted something in exchange.
Google wanted increased branding visible in Apple’s maps app. Apple apparently didn’t like that.
Google wanted to integrate Latitude (location-based social check-ins). Apple apparently didn’t like that, either.
In the end, Apple decided to go it on their own. The results so far haven’t been all that great. Not yet anyway.
Tim Cook says Apple is sorry for the frustration that their Maps app have caused. They’re even offering customers a very visible “find other mapping solutions” ad in iTunes to find another app while Apple gets their act together. Bing, Waze, MapQuest, and Scout are all there. What app isn’t listed? Google Maps.
That’s right, Google has the skills to make a full-fledged Google Maps app, complete with Latitude and turn-by-turn directions. Why haven’t they already done that? Some think it’s because Apple would reject the app. I can’t see how they could since there are already several other map apps available. Others have theorized that Google may want Apple Maps to fail, or at least to take a while to “fix” their solution so users have a reason to switch to Google’s preferred platform: Android. “Don’t like Apple Maps? Switch to Android and get Google Maps free!”
They’re working on it
One of the nice things about an app like this is that you don’t need to release a new app to fix problems with the data. Just like Netflix, for example, when the catalog needs updating you just just add, change, or remove a title. Apple is undoubtedly already working feverishly at fixing the map data that gets used by their map app. These changes won’t require you to update your app. That’s both good and bad. It’s good because you don’t have to download anything new to your device, but if you’ve already given up on Apple Maps you won’t be “reminded” that they’ve made improvements since it’s all being done behind the scenes.
Some of the improvements are coming from the “boots on the ground”. According to a report, Apple is using their Apple Store employees to help identify problems and help make corrections. That’s an army of around 40,000 people across the globe.
Even still, it’s important to realize that Google has been in the Maps business for half-a-decade, and they got started by buying a company who’d be at it even longer. Apple’s been in the maps business less than a year. We expected that Apple’s first entry wouldn’t be as complete as Google’s, but they totally screwed it up trying to make it “fancy”. Instead they needed to focus on making their solution elegant and simple, and creating a solid foundation onto which they could add features. That’s not the route they took.
Whatever the reasoning, another interesting note is that Apple may be throwing in the towel (sort of) and hiring some of the people behind Google Maps. When you can’t beat your competition, why not steal their employees?
Stephen Schenck and Jaime Rivera contributed to this post