Apple’s late CEO Steve Jobs once vowed he would wage “thermonuclear war” against Google, which he claimed had ripped off Apple’s iPhone software to make its Android mobile operating system. Toward that end, Apple has launched loads of lawsuits against phone-makers that use Android.
But now Apple’s own customers are getting caught in the crossfire.
That’s because Apple, in its zeal to hurt Google, last week announced it will no longer use Google’s map software on its iPhone and iPad devices. Instead, in future products, Apple will provide its own map software.
Just one problem. According to developers who are using an early version of the software, Apple’s solution isn’t as good as what Google provides.
Which means that if you’re an Apple customer, you’ll now be taking a step backward in terms of what your phone can do, just so that Apple can put a spoke in Google’s wheel.
One example: Right now Apple’s map service (the one it gets from Google) provides information about public transit locations. Apple’s own system, which will be released this fall, won’t have that information. Instead users will need to get it from third-party providers, a change that “seems customer-hostile, in a way that’s only justified by Apple’s goals, not any customer desires,” says Anil Dash, a blogger and tech developer who has been using a pre-release “beta” version of Apple’s new software.
Dash has taken to Twitter to complain, posting: “Is there anybody who’s even pretending Apple’s move to its own maps has any consumer benefit? Using it, it’s obviously worse for users.”
Even John Gruber, a well-known Apple blogger, concedes that the way Apple will handle public transit information “seems like a step backward, convenience-wise.”
There are other shortcomings. Apple’s map software won’t have the equivalent of Google’s Street View feature. It won’t have indoor maps of malls and airports, which Google has. It won’t have offline capabilities, a new feature Google will introduce soon.
Nevertheless Apple is dumping Google, selfishly putting its feud with Google ahead of the needs of its customers. For the sake of a vendetta, Apple customers will “upgrade” to a new system that’s actually worse, in one big way, than the system it replaces.
How did Apple come to this? The Cupertino, Calif., computer maker has been furious ever since Google entered the smartphone space with Android, which competes with Apple’s iPhone.
Apple used to count Google as an ally, but now views Google as a sneaky betrayer. Google’s former CEO and now executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, was a board member at Apple when the iPhone was being developed.
Then Google turned around and made Android, which Jobs considered a copycat product. Apple insiders have never forgiven Google for competing against Apple in smartphones and tablets. Some Apple fans seem to believe that Google should have left the smartphone market to Apple.
But Google would have been nuts to do that. Google needs to make sure that its search software and other programs are used on as many mobile devices as possible. Apple has only about 20 percent share of the smartphone market.
To get at the rest, Google created Android and gives it away free to handset makers. Google doesn’t care about licensing fees. It just wants as many people as possible to be using its search software.
So far that’s worked out pretty well. Android entered the market after Apple but now holds 61 percent market share in smartphones, three times as much as Apple, according to the latest numbers from market researcher IDC.
Apple doesn’t even bother to conceal its bitterness. The company opened its recent World Wide Developers Conference by having Siri, its overhyped and all-too-fallible voice assistant, deliver a bunch of jokes bashing Android.
Then Apple introduced its new map service, with great fanfare, touting it on the Apple Web site as “the most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever.”
Not everyone is convinced. In a piece titled, “The More I Use Apple’s Maps App, the More I Think It’s Going to Stink,” Steve Kovach at tech blog Business Insider points out that Apple’s map service in general provides less information than Google’s map service does. Turn-by-turn navigation, which Android owners have enjoyed for years, will be available, but only on the iPhone 4S and newer iPads, not on previous models, Kovach gripes.
The highlight of Apple’s map service is a feature called Flyover, which creates a 3D rendering from above. But, like turn-by-turn navigation, Flyover will run only on the 4S and newer iPads. And Apple hasn’t said how many cities will be covered by Flyover. A spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
Also, some people using the beta software have been pulling up some hilariously inaccurate results, like labeling Greenland as the Indian Ocean, according to Gizmodo, a gadget blog.
To be sure, this is beta software, and no doubt many shortcomings will be fixed by the time the software ships later this year. Dash, the blogger and tech developer who has been using the developer beta, says some features, like turn-by-turn navigation, “aren’t ready for prime time,” but adds that this is “not a big deal—this is beta after all.”
Nevertheless the whole thing looks a bit slapdash, especially by Apple’s usual detail-oriented, perfectionist standards.
Map technology is not trivial, and catching up with Google, which has a huge head start, could take years. Google Maps was launched in 2005, and Google controls its own mapping data, while Apple is relying on partners like Dutch company TomTom to provide its map data.
A Google spokesperson points out that in seven years Google has amassed 20 petabytes of data and driven 5 million miles of road to create Google Maps. “We’ve made a lot of progress solving a really hard problem, and we have a lot of momentum,” she says.
In theory, Google could work around Apple’s roadblock by creating a standalone Google Maps app for iOS. However it’s not clear whether Apple would approve that app or just block it from being sold on its App Store. The Google spokesperson declined to comment on whether Google has any plans to create a standalone Maps app for iOS.
Just last month, Gruber, the hardcore Apple fan-blogger, warned that if Apple decided to create its own map service it could not afford any big mistakes. “Users are going to have pitchforks and torches in hand if practical stuff like driving and walking directions are less accurate than they were with Google’s data,” he wrote.
To be sure, Apple customers are a loyal bunch. And maps, while important, are only one part of the iPhone experience. So maybe they will put up with whatever Apple gives them.
The big issue here is what this says about how Apple views its customers. Apple used to have a very simple mantra—provide the best possible experience for customers. Now Apple seems more concerned with hurting rivals than with helping customers. That’s not a good sign.