By Stephen Schenck | October 3, 2012 9:12 AM
The initial fury over Apple’s embarrassing launch of the iOS 6 version of Maps has died down (and before I could get “Mapplegate” to stick as its name) after some pretty heated discussions late last month. At first, there were rumors that Google might be swooping-in to the rescue, delivering a stand-alone version of Google Maps much in the same way as it provided a stand-alone YouTube app after Apple stopped bundling it with iOS. Google was quick to dismiss those claims, and CEO Eric Schmidt spelled it out plain as day: “We have not done anything yet”.
What about that “yet”, though? Could Google secretly be loving Apple’s failure, and is taking its sweet time in coming up with an iOS app in order to brew-up some discontent in Apple’s user base? Let’s consider the possibilities.
Google, The Innocent Bystander
Google may have been sad to see Apple go out on its own, but Google has its own users to worry about, and its own Android apps to keep developing. Why would Google jump on Apple’s moment of weakness to try and show how superior it is? Wouldn’t that just paint Google as a bit of an opportunistic weasel?
Maybe Google was just as surprised to see how poorly Apple put its new Maps together as we were. Perhaps there are some developers who raised the question of if an iOS Google Maps might be a good project to consider now, but fearing the kind of PR backlash I just described, execs pumped the breaks on any plans. That’s not to say that Google might be cooking something up in its spare time, just to have ready on the off chance that Apple invites the company to offer an alternative mapping app, but I wouldn’t bet on that for a second; if we believe that Google’s respecting Apple’s desire to distance itself from Google Maps, it would have little reason to expect Apple to reverse face so thoroughly in the near future.
What if Google was still surprised to see Apple’s crummy Maps effort, but now it’s quietly enjoying that failure? It would be silly to pretend that Apple and Google aren’t major competitors, and anything that makes one look bad is only going to help the other.
Google’s informal motto may be “don’t be evil”, but does it differentiate between actively being nasty and just sitting back and doing nothing when it could be helping? While Google coming up with a quick release of an iOS app would initially draw more attention to Apple’s failure, it would also placate Apple’s users, giving them what they wanted all along; in the end, that might end up benefiting Apple. By leaving Apple to its own devices, Google would be sending a subtle message to Apple’s users: if you want all Apple, all the time, you go ahead and stay put, but if you want services that actually deliver, there’s a whole world of Android you could be checking out.
Google, Snake In The Grass, Ready To Strike
Let’s throw all presumptions about “evil” out the window. What if Google has iOS Google Maps ready to go, or at least nearly ready, and is just waiting for the right moment to strike? What would that moment be, though? I’ve already mentioned how unlikely it would be for Apple to invite Google to deliver its own app at this point, but maybe that doesn’t need to happen.
What if Google publicly announces that it has Google Maps for iOS at the ready, and lets Apple’s users do all the work for it? They’d demand that Apple have Google introduce it to the App Store, even if Apple never would had made that decision on its own.
You know what would be evil as hell (and kind of awesome)? What if Google waited until there was a decent untethered jailbreak for the iPhone 5 and then released an iOS Google Maps, totally outside of Apple’s channels. I don’t think for a moment that such a thing would be likely, but when we’re painting the spectrum of Google’s reactions to Mapplegate, something’s got to be at the extreme end.
Honestly, I think Google would use up too much of the goodwill it’s accrued over the years by sniping in on Apple when it’s so vulnerable like this. I bet Google would have been willing to help out had it been asked, but I just don’t see it stepping on Apple’s toes. I guess that means iOS users are going to start learning to live with the new Maps while Apple tries to fix things, or look for a non-Google alternative.