The Real Reason why Apple Dropped Google Maps

by Tim Bajarin   |   September 28th, 2012

I have been fascinated with all the bluster and vitriol thrown at Apple since they tossed Google Maps in favor of their own Map app without these detractors trying to get to the bottom of why Apple made this move.

If you have followed Apple for a long time like I have, you know that Apple does not make rash decisions and in fact, all of their decisions are rooted in sound business reasons with an ultimate goal in mind. That is the case with the new iPhone Maps. Contrary to many peoples thinking, the move was not to punish Google in any way. Rather, the decision was a very pragmatic one that in the end will be good for Apple and really good for their customers.

One key reason for Apple dumping Google Maps is that Apple wanted turn-by-turn directions and for obvious reasons, Google did not want to license this feature to Apple because it gave them a competitive advantage over Apple. When it comes to iOS Map apps, turn-by-turn directions were at the top of the list of requests by Apple customers. We can debate Apple’s timing, how the transition was handled, etc., but my stance is that strategically this move is necessary for the future of iOS. Interestingly, Apple released a press release this morning re-inforcing their commitment to Maps and apologizing for what many are calling mis-steps. If it wasn’t clear before, this mornings release clearly stated that Apple’s goal is to ultimately provide the best user experience to their customers and they feel that can only happen if they design and control the future of their mapping software and that required a re-build from the ground up.

However there is an even more important reason Apple took this action. In a column I did for TIME earlier this year, I wrote a piece entitled “Why Google and Microsoft Fear Siri.” In it, I explained that at the heart of Siri lies a rich database of content that Siri can draw from to give users the answers to the questions they ask. However, when Apple introduced it they never even uttered the word “database” in explaining how it works. What they did say is that Siri was in its early stages of learning and over time, as people use Siri, it would get smarter. It was almost positioned as a beta release.

But this is consumer speak for the fact that Siri is based on a database of initial content and as it learns about what info people want, it adds it to its data base to make it smarter or more accurate. If you have tried Siri in the newest version of iOS, you know that indeed, Siri is smarter this time around. And as it continues to build its database as it learns what questions people ask, it will become better and even more accurate.

As I point out in the piece for TIME, what Siri is and will continue to become, is a voice front end to a very rich search engine that gets more accurate and useful as it adds info or content to its database. With that in mind, I suggested that Google and Microsoft, who’s search engines dominate the market today, could eventually be threatened by Apple if Siri gets smarter and develops a rich user contributed database that is really a search engine for at least 60,000 Siri capable iOS devices on the market today.

Over the years, we at Creative Strategies have done at least four major projects for companies with navigation software. As we dug into these projects, it became pretty clear that the navigation databases they use are at the heart of their real usefulness. However, getting the info for a mapping database is very difficult. While these companies do field work to add content to their maps as much as possible, their software only gets better when their users gave them feedback and helped them add more accurate data to their mapping database.

Google has done a great job of creating a rich database of mapping data, but like these other navigation companies, counted on users to feed them even more accurate data that continues to fine-tune Google maps’ accuracy. But what Apple understood a couple of years back is that Apple has delivered at least 70 million iOS users to Google who were feeding them map data and literally giving their competitor the ability to have a major edge on them especially with Android based smartphones.

As you can imagine, that did not make Steve Jobs, when he was still with us, very happy. So for solid business reasons and with a pragmatic approach to this problem, Apple made the important decision to create their own map app and with their users help, fine-tune their own database of Map data over time. TeleNav gave Apple the underlying Map database and Apple has been adding its own information to it for at least a year. More importantly, from this point on, Apple now owns their own custom mapping database and their customers will continue to help it become more accurate. This way it keeps Apple’s customers away from giving Google any more valuable data for their maps.

At the iPhone launch, Apple probably should have stated, as they did with Siri, that this new map app is a work in progress and more like a beta. That would have at least tempered the criticism to a point. But by praising it and then people finding a lot of inaccuracies, it comes off as a wounded product instead of what it really is; a mapping database that will become more accurate over time.

Interestingly, Google has said that they may not do an iOS version of Google Maps. But that is like shooting themselves in the foot. In fact, if they are smart, they rush an iOS Google Maps app to market quickly so that they can try and keep iOS users from using Apple’s Map app given its accuracy issues. If I were a betting man, I would put money on the fact that Google is not willing to give up the feedback they get from 70 million iOS customers that helps build their mapping database and we could see a Google apps map for iOS within the next 2 months.

Apple’s decision to jettison Google Maps was not an emotional one. Indeed, the decision was done to make sure they owned their customers data and did not give Google any help with Android. And as iOS users give Apple feedback on map data and accuracy, a very rich mapping database will emerge that could be even better than what Google offers today.

If you have time read Ben’s take on the Future of Apple’s Maps.

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.
  • Grwisher

    Finally the “Voice of Reason” speaks.

    Every time I have used the new iOPS6 maps program, it has worked. I thought it had failed once, but that is because I did not enter the precise name of the hotel (Balboa Bay Club and Resort). I prefer the iOS6 UI on the iPad to that of Google maps. I just don’t feel that this is as big of a deal as some make out. It is as if the complainers are from TN and someone just shot their dog.

    • Rich

      So if someone shot their dog but they weren’t from TN, they wouldn’t complain?

      • Grwisher

        They would complain of course, just not that loud. I hope I didn’t offend anyone from TN. I am from TX and some of my best friends are from TN.

      • jfutral

        There are people not from TN?

        Joe

    • Jurassic

      The vast majority of the negative comments about Apple Maps are coming from Android users (who haven’t even used Apple Maps)… many of whom pretend to be iPhone users.

      As someone who has actually used Apple Maps, I am very impressed and happy using it. I haven’t come across any errors yet in my own experience with it.

      Apple Maps is a huge leap beyond the old iOS version of Google Maps (which didn’t have turn-by-turn navigation, or many other features provided in the new Apple Maps).

      Speaking of which, Google Maps is far from being “perfect”, even though that service has been around for about 10 years!

      For example, in China, Apple Maps is much more accurate and detailed than Google Maps.

      I have no doubt that in less than a year Apple Maps will be more accurate and better featured overall than Google Maps is today, after 10 years of development.

  • Rich

    Tim, this is very helpful. Thanks.

  • FSRA

    Very good article indeed!
    I agree that this whole Maps thing is a little step back for now, but in the future we users are gonna have two great options of maps apps to choose, specially because I think Google is gonna come up with a very good maps app, with the whole vector-based, turn-by-turn navigation and maybe even the offline maps.

  • PeterBlood

    That’s what I thought too – call it beta like Siri was and that would have pretty much shut down and up the loudmouthed doom ‘n gloomers out there. To me that was the primary misstep and then have also mentioned (during the iOS 6 introduction) to users as they use it would make it more accurate and powerful over time. So actually bringing in and making users part of the building process to greatness.

  • Stefan

    Great article — good points that make a lot of sense.

  • Jochen

    Tim, If you we’re a betting man, wouldn’t you also bet that Apple is working on search beyond Siri’s voice and database dependencies? The next logical step, right?

    • FalKirk

      “wouldn’t you also bet that Apple is working on search…” – Jochen

      I don’t think so. I think that Apple prefers to stay within it’s core competencies and neither maps nor search are in their bailiwick. Apple felt forced to take on the Herculean task of replicating Google’s excellent map services. Taking on search is not only a monumental task, but it would be threatening to Google’s very existence.

      If Apple did search now, they would just be the Windows Phone 7 of search. I don’t think that have any intention spending the vast amount of resources necessary to create a competitive search product just so that they can become a distant third of three.

    • jfutral

      I’m not Tim, but Apple seems more focused than to become a generic search company. I think Apple would rather focus on search for specific purposes. Such as, search via Siri, as in search as a feature rather than a product. As opposed to ‘search’ for ad revenue.

      Joe

  • tz

    I sure liked it better when Apple & Google were allies.

    • FalKirk

      Yeah. It really makes me sad to think of what might have been.

      • Jurassic

        Steve Jobs was a wizard at most things, but unfortunately he was a poor judge of character when he “partnered” with Bill Gates, John Sculley, and Eric Schmidt

    • jfutral

      Not sure when that was. It seems that is was always more Apple an ally of Google than Google and ally of Apple.

      Joe

      • steve_wildstrom

        I think it is more that there was a time when Apple and Google needed each other. Apple needed services such as search and maps for its devices. Google needed devices to put its services on. Those times are gone. Among companies, as among nations, there are no friendships, just alliances of mutual need and convenience.

        • jfutral

          OK, well this brings up a question for me, then. Assuming Jobs knew Google bought Android, or whatever it is one does to acquire something supposedly “open”, (and I can only assume Jobs knew since it doesn’t seem like something someone can hide at that level), had Google continued down the path of a Blackberry-like clone rather than iOS copy, and that Google Maps on iOS maintained parity of features and abilities, do you think Apple would still have gone the route of their own Map app?

          Those are the two things that I am aware of and seem to get the most press that caused the break up of the alliance. And from that perspective, it really does seem to me that Apple was a better ally than Google.

          Part of me wants to believe Jobs when he talked about, referring to Flash, Apple needing to be in control of key features and not be at the mercy of outside companies. From that perspective it seems like maps are a no brainer, too. But i also kind of believe if Adobe had developed something worthwhile, Flash _would_ be all over iOS, HTML5 or not.

          Joe

  • Jurassic

    “In fact, if they are smart, they rush an iOS Google Maps app to market quickly so that they can try and keep iOS users from using Apple’s Map app given its accuracy issues.”

    Tim, I think Google is between a rock and a hard place now. If they came up now with an iOS version of Google Maps that is similar to the previous one (stripped down without turn-by-turn navigation, and other important features), iOS users would never want to download or use it. But if they came out with an iOS version of Google Maps that had all of the features of the Android version, they would be losing the “advantage” that they had before.

    Either way, Google would be shooting themselves in the foot.

  • CHopeMurray

    I can’t disagree with your observation: Apple and Google are competitors and neither one wants to help the other gain larger market share, more users or the data those users provide. The sad fact is that users don’t really benefit from either company taking their ball away. Building higher and thicker walls to their gardens is not getting the best product to the consumer; it is getting the best product available within a specific garden to its captive users. While Google and Apple develop and produce high quality products, they don’t do so across the board. Furthermore neither is able to acquire all the best technologies for their walled gardens. And lest we forget there are still other walled gardens out there (Microsoft and RIM) that are still relatively competitive as well as new players that have yet to arise. Each garden is a fork, and each fork is a dilution of an optimal solution. The same applies to the data. If the only data that is mined is the data in the walled garden it can only ever be a partial view. It is a view that is limited by the varying degrees of product and service quality that the users experience with the only ball they can play with.

    • jfutral

      “The sad fact is that users don’t really benefit from either company taking their ball away”

      Well sort of. Necessity is the mother of invention. And obviously Apple users were not benefitting from Google the way Android users were benefiting from iOS users. So the disparity is already there even with no one taking their ball away.

      I disagree (see what I did there? instead of “can’t not disagree”. Sorry, just an unimportant pet peeve of mine. No offense intended.) that customers intrinsically benefit from companies sharing or working together. It is just as possible for customers to _not_ get the best if no one is motivated to improve. Google was able to rest on its laurels on iOS because they felt they had Apple by the short hairs, never mind the mapping data they were able to retrieve from the huge iOS user base.

      I actually find the best question to ask is hardly ever asked when companies share the best technologies, as you suggest. That is “Is this really the best possible?” The incentive to do better is less urgent. And mostly as long as we live in a monetary economy, there is little incentive to improve if everyone automatically gets your ball, too, or there is no reason to come up with your own tech.

      Joe

  • Anonymous

    Google Maps was pretty terrible for accurate driving directions, depending on where you are – nevermind that when you’re alone it’s almost impossible to use safely since Google intentionally hobbled turn-by-turn directions. I’m sure the Maps app will get better, but for the moment I’ll take the turn-by-turn directions and for the future I’ll be happy to go with the company trying to make a better app than the company intentionally crippling their app.

  • hiramwalker

    It depends what you use maps for. I love how I just ask Siri for directions and she starts telling me right away, with no need to look at the screen. Google maps on iOS may have (cerrently) the superior data set, but I can always go to the web if I need those fun details. What I wanted was turn by turn NOW. And Apple gave it. I cn wait for the improvements, just as I did with google maps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dave-Nelson/1285630758 Dave Nelson

    Thank you for a well researched article on the facts behind the scenes. Too many sites I’ve been to are just after sensationalism.

  • FalKirk

    Tim is a lot smarter than I am. But I just don’t agree that Apple will make a search engine.

  • Me Ted

    Just glossed over Tim’s list of articles and what I found pretty much confirmed my suspicions. Hey Tim! How much Apple stock do you actually have anyway? I mean, judging by your articles I’d say a lot. Have you ever posted a negative article about Apple? Let’s have a look shall we?

    The Real Reason why Apple Dropped Google Maps
    What Really Scares Apple’s Competitors
    Apple’s Curious TV Plans
    Why Apple Stands Apart From the Competition
    The Challenge of Competing With Apple
    Would Hemingway have used an iPad?
    How Apple is Cornering the Market in Mobile Devices
    Why the New iPad is Revolutionary.
    The New iPad: Setting the Stage for Innovation
    … and on and on and on

    Christ. You need to change your title to “Head Apple Evangelist”. Sad.

    • benbajarin

      You don’t work in the technology industry do you? Is all you did is look at some his articles titles briefly but not look up his biography? It would be wise to look people up and what their role in the industry is prior to making such absurd statements.

      With the advent of the internet there is no room for such ignorance.

      • Me Ted

        “You don’t work in the technology industry do you?”
        I do actually. You simply don’t have a clue though do you? Is that your standard response to a post like that? You can’t come up with anything better? Do yourself and favour and just stick to moderating this cute little blog of yours. Focus on looking for offensive language and spam. You know; your job requirements. The fact of the matter is that I’m infinitely smarter than you’ll ever be. Don’t be disappointed though. It’s just the natural order of things. Carry on.

        ” Is all you did is look at some his articles titles briefly but not look up his biography?”
        I missed the part in the biography where it states that he isn’t human and therefore cannot be swayed by the potential for financial gain; the part where human nature doesn’t apply to him. Because you’ve never come across anyone trying to influence the markets with their writing, have you. Wake up for crying out loud.

        “It would be wise to look people up and what their role in the industry is prior to making such absurd statements.”
        See my previous point. In fact read it several times until it sinks in.

        “With the advent of the internet there is no room for such ignorance.”
        Likewise, only stay off of porn and gossip sites. No good can come from you visting either one of them apparently. Good luck.

  • Robert B.

    Not sure it matter if they get a map app in the store, it’s still harder and less convenient to use a map app that doesn’t auto launch addresses into it. It’s why I continue to use the crappy Bing maps on my Windows phone.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Thois is a point that gets forgotten a lot in the discussion and that Tim Cook ignored in his letter. No matter how many mapping apps you install, Apple Maps is the only one accessible through the APIs and remains the default for all location based services.

  • Rich

    Patrick, I think you’re overstating it when you say Apple shipped “a lousy Apple Maps experience.” I’ve read a lot of comments on the app and they seem to be split, with some saying they’ve had trouble with it and some saying it’s been a good experience (or even a very good one).

    Additionally I’ve read that turn-by-turn directions were at the top of the list of Apple’s customer requests, but Google wouldn’t let Apple have this feature in Google Maps. So introducing a product that does include turn-by-turn is the opposite of making a decision that “wasn’t in the best interests of its customers.” Let’s not get too cynical – it’s not helpful.

    • Rich

      I made an error – this comment belongs on another article.

  • http://www.tumblr.com/blog/his-divine-shadow His Shadow

    But what Apple understood a couple of years back is that Apple has delivered at least 70 million iOS users to Google who were feeding them map data and literally giving their competitor the ability to have a major edge on them especially with Android based smartphones.

    There are a multitude of so-called analysts that need to have this tattooed on their foreheads.

  • http://www.facebook.com/josh.alfred Josh Alfred

    It is so refreshing to read an article that is based on fact and reason rather than emotional, anti-Apple bias that is cluttering the web on this issue.

  • DTM8000

    Quite frankly, I’m very annoyed with Apples decision. I used the Google Maps app more than any other single app. Without it, my iphone is just a phone and less of a full featured tool.. If Apple wants to create a map app of their own, competition is healthy – then let users decide which we want to use. This is a lot like Microsoft, Internet Explorer and Netscape…We know what resulted there..

  • bubba2020

    I am beginning to like both Maps and Siri more as time goes by.
    I sometimes use GPS DriveMotionX and it is good for things like cross checking my speedometer and pointing out speed limits, but overall it tries to do far too many things; the menus are chaos! You need to be a full time user just to be able to decipher all of the icons and remember what they do. Sort of like Microsoft Office, 90% of the features never get used, or even understood since the need for many of those features is so limited. I don’t need to know all of the Mandarin Chinese restaurants whose doors are painted purple in zip code 90266…just kidding, but GPS Drive menus are a dogs breakfast.

    Used Maps last week, it proposed a route that seemed logical on the surface, but since I had a few stops to make in odd locations, it re-routed within seconds. Very good, I like the simpler interface. Hint: Apple: I was ok with the pastel colors in iOS7 for a few days but as time goes by they are becoming irritating.