The Google Maps app for the iPhone was gone for only three months, but its return is a major boon for frustrated iPhone users who will again be able to use it easily on their devices.
That's the word from two IT analysts who spoke with eWEEK about the Dec. 13 announcement that Google's Maps app was now listed in Apple's App Store for free download by iPhone users. The app was unveiled for all iPhones and iPod Touch (4th gen) devices running iOS 5.1 and higher.
Apple had dropped the built-in Google Maps app from iOS 6 when the new iOS 6 operating system launched in September and the move turned out to be a huge embarrassment for Apple when the replacement Apple Maps app left legions of users disappointed with the new app's performance and accuracy.
But that all will likely begin healing now that Google has finished its native Google Maps app and Apple has allowed it to be listed in the App Store, said Chris Hazelton, an analyst with 451 Research.
Many iOS 5 users never upgraded to iOS 6 because they'd lose access to the native built-in Google Maps app that was missing until now, said Hazelton.
"For Apple that was kind of a first because every iOS user in the past had been very interested in upgrading to a new version of the OS as soon as possible," he said. "That's always been a challenge for other device makers, to get users to upgrade their devices."
Then there were the buyers of the new iPhone 5 models, who didn't get native Google Maps in their devices and had to cope with it until a better way of using maps was released, said Hazelton. In user surveys conducted by 451 Research, the missing Google Maps app didn't necessarily delay purchases of iPhone 5s because buyers said they knew it would likely only be a short-term impact until the problem was resolved.
So does this mean that the mobile maps app wars over and that Google has won the battle?
Not exactly, said Hazelton.
"I think Apple may see that this situation and it will drive them to continue to invest in maps technology," said Hazelton. "You see they've changed leadership in the division that was responsible for Apple maps. They may come back with a vengeance organizationally or through an acquisition."
For consumers and business users, the availability and use of accurate, easy-to-operate mobile maps has become very important, and Google has a good mapping platform that users like, said Hazelton.
"There are other arguably equal mapping platforms, but they just don't have the mindshare that Google has," he said. That would include Nokia Maps, which have good pedestrian routing and good city guides, which were acquired with Nokia's acquisition of Navteq, and mobile app services from TomTom, the GPS vendor that's now offering smartphone mapping apps.
"The beauty of Google maps and things that are connected to a data network is that you always have the most up-to-date maps," as opposed to map data that has to be updated periodically on a GPS device, said Hazelton.