Apple: To map or not to map – That was no question…

Since the introduction of iOS 6 a lot has been written about Apple’s new Maps application which replaced the previous one which was based on the Google Maps service.  Most of what has been written has been in either in defense or condemnation of the application.  I won’t go into any of that now.  I’ll just stipulate that there are a lot of issues with the service, while probably not as many as some of it’s most ardent detractors would like us to think there are.

I’d like to look at the Maps situation from Apple’s point of view for a minute.  When creating the original iPhone Apple entered a multiple year-long agreement with Google for use of their service as the basis of their Maps app and put their effort into creating a nice native interface for the service.  In the next couple of years, Google came out as Apple’s most direct adversary in the mobile OS arena and thus denied Apple access to new features which they were integrating in their competing mobile OS: Android.  Of most interest to Apple was the voice directions for getting from point A to point B.

While Samsung and other handset makers are selling a large number of Android phones, iOS devices are certainly and incredibly large user base for the Google Maps service and as such its users contribute with a significant amount of information to its improvement.  Sending all this data in Google’s direction, instead of into Apple’s own system would continue to help its strongest competitor improve their service and continue to open the gap between what Apple could deliver and Google Maps.  With the switch to Apple’s own Maps service, all this user data is now headed into their system and they’ll be using it to improve the service and thus it will help close the gap with Google Maps.  At the same time, all this user data that is going to Apple is no longer available to Google which significantly impact their own data collection as iOS represents a very significant chunk of mobile devices.

Apple might have decided to continue working to improve its own Maps service, as it seems that there was still a full year left in their agreement with Google, but it is quite possible, not to say probable that no amount of work they could put into the product would make as much difference as couple of months collecting real live data from users all over the world.  At that point, the question of if they should switch to their own service was already answered.   Making the switch well ahead of the end of the agreement had another possible benefit, they might catch Google unprepared as they seem to have done, in fact.

If they switched at a moment when Google had its own iOS app ready for download right after Apple’s became the default one, many users might simply stick with Google as that was what they had already been using.  By making the switch early it is possible that by the time Google has its own iOS Maps app ready, Apple’s own app will have improved markedly and most users will have become used to it.

Apple always strives to create great products, and some might question that by making this compromise, Apple has effectively compromised this ideal.  It might be a valid point, but regardless of the apology issued by Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, I believe Apple sees the iPhone/iOS as a work continuously in progress and they’ve always considered that there would be an “adjustment” period before the current generation iOS and iPhone “matured” into a great product.

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