Today, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt said his company hasn’t done anything yet to bring Google Maps to iOS as a standalone app. That seems to contradict Google’s statement last week about wanting this to happen, as well as the company’s central mission. But negotiations and contract issues yet to be revealed might be a “good” reason for the delay. The bad reason would be if Google’s doing this to promote Android. Let’s look at them both.
How We Got Here
Last week, Google Maps disappeared from being the brains inside the Maps application on the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 6, which ships on the iPhone 5 and which many other iPhone and iPad versions are being upgraded to.
This was fallout from the much cited thermonuclear war that Steve Jobs spoke about wanting to wage against Android as as “stolen product.” That war meant Apple pulling away from Google as a mapping partner. Instead, Apple shifted to having its Maps app be powered by its own data and that from partners like Yelp and TomTom, among others.
Soon after iOS 6 appeared, it became clear that the new Maps had accuracy and detail issues, something Apple itself pledged to fix, along with asking patience from its customers
The Expected Google Maps App
Good times for Google, then! It highlighted how Google had a superior mapping product and suggested that if a Google Maps app came to iOS, it would shoot to the top of the charts just as Google’s YouTube app did, when that was released ahead of YouTube being evicted from the iOS video app.
But unlike YouTube, no Google Maps app turned up. When we asked Google about it last week, a statement finally came:
We believe Google Maps are the most comprehensive, accurate and easy-to-use maps in the world. Our goal is to make Google Maps available to everyone who wants to use it, regardless of device, browser, or operating system.
The statement is pretty clear. Google was committed to bringing its maps everywhere, which would include the iPhone and iOS devices.
But since there was no Google Maps app released, something was an issue. Was it perhaps that Apple was finding a reason to block an app, maybe considering it to replicate native iOS features?
If so, Google wasn’t saying. It wasn’t saying anything about the “why” at all.
“We Haven’t Done Anything Yet”
We haven’t done anything yet with Google Maps.
And by Reuters as saying:
We have not done anything yet.
Nothing? Google’s done nothing? Despite knowing this change was coming for months, Google hasn’t created a Google Maps app to make up for Google being dropped out of the native Maps application in iOS in the same way it made a YouTube app to cover being dropped from the native Video application?
Time to parse what “haven’t done anything” may mean.
It could mean that Google hasn’t done any work on a Google Maps app at all, which is hard to believe.
It could be that Google has made an app and submitted it to Apple, where it’s yet to be approved. That’s more believable, but personally, I don’t think that’s the case.
The Bloomberg report says Schmidt declined to say if an app had been submitted:
“We haven’t done anything yet with Google Maps,” Schmidt told reporters in Tokyo today. Apple would “have to approve it. It’s their choice,” Schmidt said, declining to say if the Mountain View, California-based company submitted an application to Apple for sale through its App Store.
Reuters gives the impression that his “have not done anything” comment was about not having submitted an app:
Schmidt said Google and Apple were in constant communication “at all kinds of levels.” But he said any decision on whether Google Maps would be accepted as an application in the Apple App Store would have to be made by Apple.
“We have not done anything yet,” he said.
I think that Reuters has it right, that Google does have a Google Maps app that could work but hasn’t submitting that app for consideration until it can negotiate more with Apple over terms. That would be what I’d call a “good” reason for the delay, and I’ll come back to it. But let me first cover the “bad” reason for doing nothing.
Bad: To Promote Android
Possibly, Google is holding back on a Google Maps app as a way to promote Apple’s mobile platform as weaker than Android.
The lack of a Google Maps app helps highlights how Apple has made a business decision to go with maps that can be sub-par, in some cases. That might cause some Apple customers to think twice about Apple in the future. For another, Google’s move could be designed to help push people to consider Android over the iPhone.
In short, Google might be holding back for competitive reasons. If so, that’s a bad reason. Google has a broader commitment than pushing Android:
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
That’s the company’s long-standing mission statement. When it launched Google Maps, that was part of the mission, that some information needed to be organized on maps. Playing games by favoring its own platform over others wouldn’t be true to that mission or in the interest of Google’s users, who aren’t all Android users nor want to be.
Good: To Negotiate Openness
It this turns to be a competitive play by Google, I’ll be incredibly disappointed in the company. Personally, I’m hoping the delay is over what I’d consider to be the only “good” reason, to negotiate more openness within iOS.
Want to share a picture you’ve taken on the iPhone? Apple provides native support of this for Twitter and Facebook. It doesn’t for Google+, which seems to be an Apple decision.
Want to use Google Voice? You can do it but not using an app that ties in deeply into the iPhone, so that placing calls is more awkward than with using Google Voice in Android. This also seems to be an Apple decision.
Google might be trying to get these types of restrictions lifted and prevent similar ones if it brings its own Google Maps app to iOS. It might even be trying to find a way for people to decide they want to use Google Maps data within the native Maps app, if they want.
Sound crazy? You can pick your search provider within Safari, a choice of Google, Yahoo or Bing for US users. Why can’t you pick your mapping provider within Maps, Apple, Google or even Nokia?
Choice is good for users, and it also can even be good for Apple. After all, when it’s not trying to create the core data, it can more easily escape blame for when things go wrong, as with last year’s abortion search issue with Siri.
Ideally, Google would just make clear what’s going on. But that’s where contract issues come into play. Google may still be under contract with Apple to provide mapping services; certainly it’s still providing them for iOS 5 users. That contract may prevent what the company can say about the current situation with Google Maps.
Postscript: The Verge is now out with a story saying that Apple decided to ship Maps without using Google mapping data despite still having time on its contract with Google to receive that data.
That’s not really surprising. Google executive chairman said last May (see here and here, as we reported) said that deals for search and maps with Apple had been renewed. Typically these deals are done over a multiyear period. So yes, there’s almost certainly time left on that contract for Google to be providing Apple with mapping services.
That existing contract between Apple and Google could, as I described above, have terms that are preventing Google from saying much about the status of a Google Maps app as well as potentially preventing it from even submitting a Google Maps app for iOS.
But according to The Verge, its sources say it that Google has been scrambling since June to develop an app for iOS and that it’s not complete nor ready to ship for several months.
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