Google Maps Loses U.S. Mobile App Lead to Facebook in 2012

The Google Maps app lost its popularity as the leading mobile app in 2012 to the mobile Facebook app, thanks in large part to Apple, comScore says.

Google Maps was the most popular mobile app in the United States in early 2012, but by the end of the year, it fell to second place behind Facebook's mobile app, due largely to Google Maps being dropped from Apple's iOS 6 operating system in September.

That's the word from digital analytics firm comScore, which released its latest Mobile Metrix rankings Jan. 23 to report on the top mobile apps in the U.S. marketplace.

"The latest comScore Mobile Metrix ranking of the top mobile apps by audience shows that Facebook finished the year strong to capture the #1 position from Google Maps," according to the report, which was written by comScore analyst Andrew Lipsman. "Of course Apple's decision to replace Google Maps with Apple Maps on iOS 6 also caused a decline in Google Maps usage in October, which is largely responsible for the position swap. Meanwhile, Google Maps has been clawing its way back the past few months after getting reinstated on iOS 6, so look for the competition for the #1 spot to heat up as we head into 2013."

In an interview with eWEEK, Lipsman said that the previous popularity of the Google Maps mobile app means that there's a good chance that many of those lost users will return now that Google released a new maps app for the popular Apple operating system. At the same time, Facebook is another popular mobile app and it could very well remain in the top spot for awhile, he said.

"Facebook still has a very positive trajectory" based on the late-year 2012 usage figures, though, and "there's nothing stopping that momentum. But to me it's an open question about whether Google will regain its app lead in the U.S."

ComScore only began ranking apps usage in March 2012, so the analysts haven't even compiled a year's worth of results, said Lipsman. However, the figures are interesting to track because of the increased use and popularity of mobile devices, he said.

"Obviously, there's been a big platform shift to mobile platforms in general [away from desktop computers]," he said. "We're in the post-PC paradigm now. Ultimately that means that advertising dollars are going to continue to flow that way," which makes the mobile app tracking numbers valuable to advertisers and users.

"It provides the context of how many people you can reach," said Lipsman. "I think its notable anytime there is a shift in position."

In 2012, a mobile milestone was reached when for the first time, more than 50 percent of mobile users used smartphones instead of basic flip phones, which gives users the ability to explore and utilize mobile apps.

Maps apps have been one of the most popular mobile apps for users and Google Maps started 2012 as the most popular mobile app in the United States. The maps app, though, isn't the only big mobile app for Google, according to the comScore report.

"Despite losing the top position, Google maintains a strong leadership position in the app market with five of the top six ranked apps," the report states. "Given the ubiquity of various Google services in addition to many being native apps on both iOS and Android, its strength should perhaps not come as a surprise. Other apps rounding out the ranking include Pandora, iTunes, Cooliris and Yahoo! Messenger."