The Really Interesting Thing About Google Maps Isn’t the App Itself

Google Maps is already the most popular free app in the App Store, and it could be the heart of Google's efforts to stay firmly planted within iOS -- whether Apple likes it or not.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jared Newman / TIME.com

As my colleague Harry McCracken reported last night, Google has come to the rescue of lost iPhone users with its own Google Maps app.

Although the app has been rumored for some time now, one of the big questions was whether Apple would actually approve it for the App Store. Harry says he was never worried; Apple doesn’t decline apps for competitive reasons any more, and the arrival of Google Maps just makes the iPhone a better competitor to Android. No problem, right?

Well, not exactly. Google Maps does make the iPhone better, but it also poses a threat to Apple on its very own platform. With a native Maps app, Google is starting to sink its hooks deeper into iOS. The app itself is just the beginning.

I thought TechCrunch’s interview with Daniel Graf, director of Google Maps for mobile, was an interesting read — particularly this exchange:

TechCrunch: How does Google feel about Apple now allowing another Maps app to be the default and Safari clicks not opening up Google Maps? [Note: I think this question was supposed to say “not allowing,” as is the case on iOS.]

Daniel Graf: We want our native Chrome and Search apps to give you the opportunity to jump into Google Maps. With our new SDK, this is up to the developers to integrate into their apps if they like. Safari is out of our control.

(MORE: Problem Resolved: Google Maps for iPhone Is Here, Looks Good)

Apple doesn’t allow the user to decide which apps perform certain functions by default. For instance, if you tap on a link in Mail, it always opens in Safari, even if you prefer to use Chrome or another alternative browser. Likewise, if you try to get directions to a restaurant through Yelp’s app, you’ll be taken directly into Apple Maps, even if you prefer to use Google Maps instead. (For what it’s worth, Android allows users to select default apps for certain functions.)

Google is giving app makers an alternative. It will offer software tools (the “SDK,” or software development kit in techspeak, that Graf mentions) to send the user directly to Google Maps instead of Apple Maps for directions.

As for Google’s own apps, the Maps integration is rudimentary at the moment. If you use Google Search or Chrome to look up a location, it shows you a map. Tapping on that map takes you to the web version of Google Maps, where you can finally tap a button to jump into the native Google Maps app. In the future, I could see Google cleaning up this whole transaction and sending users straight to the native app.

(MORE: Why Google’s (and Apple’s Alleged) 3D Maps Don’t Seem That Exciting)

Google has been working to tie together its other iOS apps as well. Right now, when you view a link in Gmail for iOS, you have the option to open it in Chrome as well as Safari. And when you want to share a link in Chrome, you can send it directly to the Gmail app or to the Google+ app. Essentially, Google is building a platform within a platform — one where all of its services are connected, and working around Apple’s limitations on default apps by having Google-built apps talk directly to one another.

Google Maps is the centerpiece, because it represents a big source of revenue potential for Google. “The fact that a phone has a location is really helpful for monetization,” Google CEO Larry Page told Fortune just a few days ago. He was talking about Android, but the same is true on the iPhone. For tech titans like Apple and Google, location is a key battleground. Controlling the data means having the chance to offer new location-based services (or in the case of Google, to serve up location-based ads).

Apple reportedly expelled Google’s mapping data in iOS 6 because it wanted that control for itself. But because of the problems with Apple’s own Maps app, Google gets to waltz right back in. Now, it’s the most popular free app in the App Store, and it could be the heart of Google’s efforts to stay firmly planted within iOS — whether Apple likes it or not.

19 comments
peter
peter

Maybe I've been around too long but when I read stuff like this about Apple's leveraging their control of the platform in the form of anti-competitive restrictions placed on other companies deploying software that Apple prevents from being fully functional and interacting with other applications (i.e. - email will not open web links in any browser other than Safari even  if you have selected another browser as your preferred application) this reminds me of EXACTLY the type of practice that got Microsoft sued 10 years ago. But, because it is Apple, no one does anything about it - they are this great innovator after all who makes their devices with fairy dust and unicorn tears. This is BS. Apple should be held accountable by the courts EXACTLY the same way that other players have historically been. Anyone who pays a premium price (ALL Apple products are sold at a premium - an idiot tax on those dumb enough to pay it) to support this type of practice is a short sighted moron that is cutting off their nose to spite their face in the long term. that aside however is that Apple gets a pass for what are clear anti trust violations that any other company would be held accountable for. Where the heck is the DOJ on this? It is well past time that someone let some of the collective arrogance out of Apple's balloon. They are hurting the future of technology and treading on the rights of their customers. And, with their new maps app they have apparently graduated to risking their customers lives. Natural selection at work I guess...

GaryRMcCray
GaryRMcCray

You have presented this article with an unusual bias, that of Apple as the poor defender beset upon by evil Google.

Poor Apple; What tripe!

Apple is a huge Company that makes an incredible profit, the archetype of giant aggressive American Corporations.

And the reason the Google maps are going back in there is because by every measure, Apple screwed up their own maps so badly they had egg all over their face.

Apple is lucky Google is willing to jump back in to the clearly unfriendly Apple pot and give them another chance, clearly that was never Apple's original intention.

These are all Corporate Wars (as in Rollerball) and Apple is and always has been about winning.

That has most certainly not changed.

DanMan'99
DanMan'99

Excuse me, I meant e-mail service.

DanMan'99
DanMan'99

I really prefer Google to apple, so this is good news. What's next? Apple boots g-mail and starts its own web browser only for it to suck?

Skellig86
Skellig86

Tiger_Moth, why do you think Google refused to allow Apple to use the turn-by-turn data? Did you know that the Youtube and Google Maps app for previous versions of iOS where actually developed by Apple? Google had little say about the app design except only the provision of data (map data).

What proof do you have about Google 'choosing' to keep Google Maps an Android exclusive?

Now Youtube and Google Maps are apps actually developed by Google and Google can finally do what they want with the design and data. Sadly, it can not be defaulted due to the limitation of iOS so Apple Maps will still be plaguing iOS users. Want to get the navigation to the address of one of your contacts? Sure. Apple Maps. Oh,you wanted to use Nokia or Google Maps instead? Sorry, no can do. Do it yourself.

112teejay
112teejay

My iPad 2 is gonna be my last purchase of anything 'i-'. Using an android phone and its universality makes it the gadgets of choice for the free minded  

Tiger_Moth
Tiger_Moth

That's an interesting perspective. Another way of looking at this is to remember that Apple wanted Google to provide turn-by-turn directions and Google refused, choosing to make that feature exclusive to its Android platform. In response, Apple booted them and created their own mapping solution. Now, Google is back, and everybody is saying "A-Ha!" to Apple. What MOST INTERESTING to me, is the fact that when Google Maps returned to iOS, it arrived with... turn-by-turn directions!

Who played whom?

newmanjb
newmanjb

@peter INALB I think the argument would be that if you don't like what Apple is doing, there are enough viable competitors to take your business elsewhere. You couldn't really say that about the PC market 10 years ago, when Windows was on 9/10 PCs sold and Macs were only a high-end alternative.

Also, for what it's worth, Microsoft now has the exact same restrictions with browsers on Windows RT and Windows Phone 8 devices. You can't set alternatives as the default, so you're practically forced to use IE.

I agree with you that it's consumer-hostile behavior--that's one of the reasons I prefer an Android phone--though I'm a little more jaded about DOJ involvement. That kind of thing would take a long time to pan out, it's not like it would quickly rectify the situation, and the market could be a lot different by the time it's all over.

Mr.357
Mr.357

@DanMan'99 Apple already has its own browser, it's called Safari...

Tiger_Moth
Tiger_Moth

I didn't say that they wanted to keep the map app exclusive, only turn-by-turn directions. If you wonder where I heard that, well, Google it...

armynod
armynod

@Tiger_Moth I seriously doubt anyone was "played".  Next thing you'll be saying is that Scott Forestall never got fired.  It was all a grift to fool Google.  Nice try fanboy.

peter
peter

@newmanjb @peter Well, Microsoft's control of the market didn't spring to life fully formed. It was established over the course of years by some combination of producing the best products and anti-competitive practices and it seems to me that Apple is given a pass. For whatever reason people don't think when it comes to Apple and their business practices. Meanwhile (thanks in no small measure to Apples silly but effective campaign of branding and misinformation) everyone thinks that Microsoft is the evil empire with Gates/Ballmer playing the the part of Mr. Burns. Where Apple is concerned, people seem very happy to be sheep. I HATE to see double standards. Apple/Oracle/Netscape/Sun could not out compete Microsoft so they decided to out litigate them. Meanwhile, Apple is doing worse things now in pursuit of market dominance and people just blink their eyes and nod. I would like it if everyone was playing by the same rules is all. And regarding DOJ involvement, I was not advocating it as a solution (just as I didn't think Microsoft deserved to have them descend upon them 10 years ago). Again, I was just making the point that everyone should be playing by the same rules. Apple is not and they get a pass.

And regarding the environment 10 years ago, Macs were not a "high end alternative" because of Microsoft. Apple painted themselves into that corner through ridiculous and short sighted marketing that focused their efforts on marketing to the educational environment. The reason that they ended up nearly out of business had less to do with Microsoft than it did to their tone deaf business model.

Bottom line is that watching the way Apple does business, the products they make, the way they control the platform and how they treat their customers it is clear that they are more evil as a company than Microsoft ever was.

As to phones (and products in general) I am with you. Android (or Windows phone even) over anything Apple makes. PC or Linux over Mac. As to the iPad, it is a device designed to turn a computing platform into a consuming platform and I will have no part of it. It is for sheep.

Anyway, enjoyed the article. Thanks for the reply.

Skellig86
Skellig86

@Tiger_Moth Well, sorry I did mean turn-by-turn. I did just Google it. Nothing. Are you lying? Please provide a source to back your claim. Otherwise don't make it.

Tiger_Moth
Tiger_Moth

@armynod @Tiger_Moth 

I suppose I deserved that, having left off (in the interest of brevity) the part about Apple's badly bungled maps app. I merely meant that doing what they did got them what they originally wanted. I grant you in retrospect, however, that it was likely unintentional.

I'm loving my turn-by-turn directions, though; and it's nice to be using a mapping service I trust again.

Skellig86
Skellig86

@Tiger_Moth A tech blogger's opinion piece is your source? You know there's a difference from a persons held opinion and reported news, don't you? So far,there has been no definitive example from either Apple of Google in regards to what you believe. There has been unconfirmed sources speaking to AllThingsD voicing their own views on the matter: http://allthingsd.com/20120926/apple-google-maps-talks-crashed-over-voice-guided-directions/

If this were to be believe, this tells us of a conflict of interest between the two companies, but it's also only the view point of unnamed sources. Again, there is no evidence to what you have stated nor what Matther Yglesias has opinionated on Slate.

Tiger_Moth
Tiger_Moth

On today's Slate:

"Recall that the problem with the old Maps wasn’t that it wasn’t as good as the new Maps. The problem is that it was distinctly inferior to Google Maps for Android, and this wasn’t a coincidence. Google is happy to make apps and provide online services for iOS users, but they’d rather have everyone use Android for their mobile purposes. So a situation in which Google provided the data for the best iOS mapping app while ensuring that the best iOS mapping app was distinctly inferior to the best Android mapping app was ideal for them.So, pride aside, from Apple’s viewpoint this is a win. Apple’s not in the maps business, they’re in the device and platform business."

Tiger_Moth
Tiger_Moth

@armynod @Tiger_Moth 

My wife has the 5 and her battery life seems comparable to the iPhone 4 (better than my 4S) and the call quality, at least on Verizon, is very good. If you're still on the 3, the biggest thing you'll notice is the LTE data speed, obviously. My co-worker has a new Galaxy that he is absolutely in love with, though. If you were going to upgrade, there a helluva lot more options these days than when you bought your 3. Good luck deciding. If I were upgrading right now, it would be a hard choice.

armynod
armynod

@Tiger_Moth Good to know it's working so well.  I've been holding off upgrading my iPhone 3.  My only other concern is battery life and call quality.  Any insights?