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.
Google Maps App for iPhone Will Satisfy iPhone 5 Users: Analysts
For vendors of alternatives to Google Maps, now that the new app is available for iPhone users, their odds of converting new users over to their products is probably closed, according to Hazelton. “In that time period where Google Maps was not available, it did give some opportunities to alternatives, but because they were all Web-based apps and they were not native I don’t expect that the customers they were able to get will remain with them.”
Maribel Lopez, principal analyst at Lopez Research, said the return of the Google Maps app is “great for users but not for Apple” because of the repercussions caused by the maps app omission in iOS6.
“The Apple Maps app was a disaster,” said Lopez. “It was one of the few products they’ve released that just missed the mark. This definitely won’t put the maps issue aside for Apple, but will help its users.”
At the same time, more maps features that haven’t yet been thought of are still likely to come for users, she said. “Better location services will be one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, so we aren’t even close to [development] being over in terms of innovation. We are merely at the beginning.”
Available through Apple’s App Store portal online, Google Maps offers local search, voice guided turn-by-turn navigation, public transit information, Street View and live traffic information. The application also features a sign-in option that allows users to call up previous searches and directions made from the user’s computer.
Apple had replaced the application with its own in-house maps app that was met with derision upon its release, eventually forcing a public apology from company CEO Tim Cook and a restructuring of company management. In a recent interview with NBC News, Cook admitted the app failed to meet customer expectations and their own, but Apple was throwing the “weight of the company” behind correcting it.
One feature the Google application does not have is Flyover, an Apple invention that was designed to provide a 3D, photorealistic view of city landscapes. However, even that impressive-sounding feature was criticized by Web reviews after screenshots of a collapsed-looking Brooklyn Bridge and other less-than-realistic renderings surfaced.
Google is riding to Apple’s rescue just as the iPhone maker’s maps app hit headlines again, when Australian police cautioned its fellow countrymen’s users not to employ the app while in certain parts of the country. Police in Mildura, a city in northwestern Victoria, were called to assist distressed motorists who became stranded within Murray-Sunset National Park after following directions provided by the application, leading the department to ask drivers to refrain from using the app.