There was never any question - especially after Steve Jobs’ proclamation he would go “thermonuclear” on Android - that Apple wouldn’t be renewing its partnership with Google to include Google Maps on its iOS devices.
But nobody expected to be underwhelmed quite as much as they were with the launch of Apple Maps in iOS6. After all, this is the company Jobs built, with an attention to detail in design that has seen it become one of the world’s biggest, wealthiest companies.
Nobody expected bugs. Nobody expected glitches. Nobody expected a lack of detail in the maps, or a product that didn’t offer industry-leading features from the moment it went live.
In other words, nobody expected this.
But how many people remember the early days of Google Maps? Back in 2005, it was a revolutionary new product. It was also a beta product, an offering that had dated satellite imagery, questionable directions and was ridden with bugs. It was a far cry from the comprehensive mapping service we know and love today.
Admittedly, times have changed since Google first launched its Maps product. But the fact remains that the current iteration of Google’s mapping software has been the accumulation of more than six years of work. Even if Apple were to wait another three years before launching its own mapping service, it would still be years behind Google’s offering.
Which brings us to the question of why Apple would even bother launching maps in the first place?
The answer is actually pretty simple. Google, which was once a company that offered complimentary services to Apple, now competes with Cupertino at a fundamental level with its Android offering.
Aside from offending Steve Jobs with the very fact Google entered the smartphone race, the power balance in the Google/Apple relationship has changed. When the original iPhone launched, Google didn’t have its own hardware to push its mapping service onto. Now, thanks to Android, it has millions of devices around the world all running Google Maps, without needing Apple at all.
Apple knew this when it acquired mapping firm Placebase in 2009 and 3D mapping firms Poly9 and C3 Technologies last year. So rather than remain at the mercy of Google, Apple decided to plan for its own mapping software, with some acquisitions and in-house development.
But while the initial rollout has been underwhelming, the fact that Maps is a Cloud-based mapping solution offers one big positive - it is constantly being updated, so the service is getting better without having to update the app.
What’s more, the app includes a “Report a problem” link, and in the hands of millions of iOS6 users unimpressed with the initial offering, it won’t take long for Cupertino to bring its maps offering up to standard.