Google’s Directionless Map Strategy

Marco Arment on Google Maps:

What this timing (of Google Maps) really shows is how much Google needs to be on iOS. They’re primarily in the business of reaching as many people as possible so they can build up as much data and advertise to as many bodies as possible. Android is an insurance policy against their profitable businesses being locked out of other platforms, not an important profit center itself.

Google’s Android strategy is inconsistent and incomprehensible. Apple never would have created its own mapping program at all if Google hadn’t denied Apple audible turn-by-turn directions. Now – after Apple has integrated their own maps into their iOS operating system – Google gives Apple everything they ever wanted. How does that make any sense?

If Google wanted to deny Apple access to features that were on Android, then they shouldn’t have created Google Maps for iOS. If they wanted iOS eyeballs, then they should have given Apple turn-by-turn directions BEFORE Apple effectively un-integrated Google maps. The whole affair was completely counter-productive for all involved.

You can’t have it both ways. Either Google should be in the business of being on every mobile platform or Google should be in the business of Android. Trying to pursue both strategies is like trying to keep one foot on the dock and the other on the boat. You can’t get anywhere and it’s going to sink you sooner or later.

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John Kirk

John R. Kirk is a recovering attorney. He has also worked as a financial advisor and a business coach. His love affair with computing started with his purchase of the original Mac in 1985. His primary interest is the field of personal computing (which includes phones, tablets, notebooks and desktops) and his primary focus is on long-term business strategies: What makes a company unique; How do those unique qualities aid or inhibit the success of the company; and why don’t (or can’t) other companies adopt the successful attributes of their competitors?

28 thoughts on “Google’s Directionless Map Strategy”

  1. You forgot one important piece: from what I’ve read, the breakdown between Apple and Google was that Apple wanted a maps app that would not data-mine or advertise, and Google wanted to be allowed to do data mining at a minimum. So Apple said “no deal,” and went it alone with their app; and now we have a new Google maps app that I am sure is happily showing ads and gathering user info for Google to sell.

    1. And why not? They have every right (IMHO) to data mine how you use their app. If you don’t like it, use something else, plain and simple. I use android (love the hell outta my phone) and know that there is quite a bit of info that is mined from my usage. Nothing personal like my name linking to ALL of the data, but enough that it could be intrusive if I didn’t already agree to the TOS. They make a great series of products and all they ask is for our usage data so they can give us ads to support said products at no charge to us. Fair deal in my book.

      1. I don’t care about the data-mining either, since I never use the maps app. But Apple did care, which is why the two companies parted ways.

        1. But it’s not like Apple cared because they felt a duty to protect their users’ data–they just wanted to keep the data mining advantage on ios for themselves.

        1. For a start, what you’re talking about has little to do with data mining.

          Also, you could simply turn an app off if you’re not going to be using it anymore. Aside from preventing data usage it also helps your battery.

          If you’re leaving an app on, developers obviously have reason to expect you’ll want to use it again in the near future. Taking into consideration the fact that mobile connections are unreliable and can be slow, it should not come as a surprise that they decided to pre-load their data heavy maps, so the load is more balanced and you have to wait less when you’re actually using the app.

    2. “… the breakdown between Apple and Google was that Apple wanted a maps app that would not data-mine or advertise…” – Glaurung-Quena

      Does the current app data mine and advertise?

      1. The Google app. I’m sure, collects data in the way all Google applications and web sites do: It collects search requests. Apple maps, I am certain, do exactly the same.

        There is no indication of advertising in Google Maps for iOS (or other versions.)

        And Google does not sell the search data it collects, though it does use it to place ads on advertising-supported services, including Google search.

      2. Seeing as it asked me to agree to Google’s TOS and privacy policy before it would start up (and repeatedly demanded that I turn on location services for it once started) , I’d say it definitely data-mines.

        1. All Google apps–pretty much all apps–require you to agree to the ToS and privacy policy, which explain what data are collected and how they are used, if you bother to read them. (I know; I don’t and neither does anyone else.) You don;t have to agree to let it use location services, but Google Maps, or any mapping program, is of very little use if you don’t.

          1. Have you ever used a paper map before? or a browser based mapping program? both can be very usefull without needing to use location services.

          2. Not that Steve can’t speak for himself, but you realize those are not the contexts of this discussion, right? I think if most people enjoyed the non-location services quality of paper maps I doubt many people would have downloaded Google Maps for their iOS devices.

            Besides, Steve did not say non-location based mapping was completely useless. But for how the vast majority of people and how they use maps on their iOS devices, it is almost moot (academic theorizing, which is kind of what I enjoy doing anyway, which I’m not an academic, BTW), aka “very little use”. Not useless but close to useless.


      3. First thing you see when you download the app is a request for your location data. so on the data mining, that would be a yes

        1. Of course Google wants your map search data. But let’s be half reasonable here: A map application is close to useless without location services turned on. One really annoying thing about the Google Maps web app is that it had to ask for location permission every time you started it.

          1. Why is that, because you can’t press “Use my location”? God forbid you have to enter your departure location manually.

          2. Once you enter your location, as say the starting point for a trip, it gets sent to Google just as if you had location services turned on. You control when location get sent, but you need to send it any time you want useful location-based information.

  2. “Either Google should be in the business of being on every mobile platform or Google should be in the business of Android.”

    Google is doing neither. They’re in the business of selling targeted ads, which they make possible by aggregating and indexing as much data as they can get their hands on.

    Android is more than a pawn on the chessboard, but it certainly is not the king.

    1. “Google is doing neither.”

      Kinda, sorta, but not really, because the only way they are going to successfully undertake “aggregating and indexing as much data as they can get their hands on” is by being on as many platforms as possible.

      But Google has many things apparent in how it is handling Android, especially as we focus on what you just said. They don’t care about fragmentation, either device or OS. I don’t think it matters to Google if all devices are using Jelly Bean or v2.0. All that matters is having a finger in the pie of data and advancing Google services. If it really mattered they would have set things up differently with regard to hardware upgradeability.

      They don’t care who is in control of the OS—carriers or device makers. As long as Google is search and services are part of the tie-in.

      They don’t care about developers or else both of those issues would be better handled.

      They don’t care about an eco system as none of the previous are handled better than they are.

      They don’t care about the customer. They just want the data. They are willing to let everyone else handle the face to face issues with customers regarding Android. Sure they throw a Nexus out there every once in a while as a bone to some OEM. It also shows what they think and Android device should be, but not that they care if anyone agrees.

      They don’t care if the device makers make money. It isn’t their job.

      I remember hearing about Google’s opinion of design and how little it mattered. if making something a particular color blue meant it got more clicks, that’s all that mattered, not how it fit in the rest of some design strategy.

      Nothing they develop really has anything with what is developed. How many “beta projects” have fallen by the wayside?

      So yes, they are in the business of selling targeted ads possible by data.

      What they won’t see coming is what is just starting to happen. At least two device makers, Dell and another one I can’t remember, are dumping Android in favour of Windows 8. As hardware makers continue to not see any ROI on Android, I would expect to see more of this, especially as Samsung squeezes them out of the Android market space. Heck even Samsung mumbled about furthering their own OS at one point. Amazon doesn’t even care about Google. Never mind the China Android market being largely irrelevant to Google.

      By not caring about anything other than “targeted ads” they are essentially sealing their fate in any endeavor they undertake that is not selling targeted ads, which means Android is toast. Hopefully they will see this before it is too late or before their shareholders see this.


  3. If Android is part of their strategy, they greatly embarrassed Apple’s reputation, perhaps permanently. Also, they can have an OS plus apps for other platforms. Microsoft Office is on Mac. iTunes is on PC. We should all be thankful for Google because they created competition where there would be little without them, in modern mobile OS. Also, Apple Maps may eventually mature to compete with Google Maps, and perhaps offer an Android app. More good for consumers.

    1. They diden’t create compertition they reduced choice by selling Android below cost to destroy competing systems which is their normal MO.

      1. Your right, they reduced choices from 1 to 2. Also, your completely right about selling below cost, same evil deed as that Linus Torvalds fiend. But Apple is guilty too, for selling OS X desktop upgrades for much less than Windows Upgrades in their App store. What we really need is to have 1 choice that is very expensive, that will be best for the consumer.

        1. Hmm. So before Android there was no one else making smartphones or cell phones in general? Just Apple?

          Now unless you are one of the rare breeds willing to admit that Apple and iPhone fundamentally changed the smartphone landscape.

          Even in this case, if you look at how the shift has occurred (at least from available data), Android has done more to eliminate and eat the lunch non-Apple smartphones and cell phones in general than Apple.

          So, yeah, Google reduced competition. Just ask HP/Palm, Nokia, and RIM. And how many other handset makers ditched their OS in favour of an Android build? And so far only Samsung is making it work. So, the competition will get even more thinned out.


          1. iPhone did fundamentally change the smartphone landscape. Windows Mobile, Palm, and Blackberry were clunky descendents of the pocket organizer a step change below what iOS and Android are now. Apple would have eliminated them all too, except that Apple’s initial strategy of being on only 1 carrier and charging $300-400 per phone plus expensive plans limited Apple’s market penetration. Apple’s gains were other manufacturers losses, and so were Androids, going first did not make Apple less brutally competitive. Apple is doing more to displace RIM’s corporate stronghold, and corporate IT departments care a lot more about fragmentation than consumers, and so they offer iPhone not Android (everywhere I have worked) and employees all choose iPhone over RIM when their upgrade comes up. Samsung is doing great with Android. Motorola did not exactly have a ton of relevance to lose in its earlier Smartphones and the Droids are doing better than anything i can recall them doing with Windows Mobile, etc. HTC got hurt by frivolous lawsuits from Microsoft and Apple and racially motivated juries. Nokia failed on their own accord to develop their own OS and then chose Microsoft, and consumers are rejecting Windows Phone OS not because there is one better alternative, but because there are two. HP and Palm were slow to market and had poor strategy, and again, if Android was the only alternative many would have embraced WebOS for something different, but the key is that iOS and Android were both already more mature, and HP did not fully commit to WebOS. If Android did not exist either Apple would control 75+% of the market, or the iPhone would still be a single carrier $500+ device until a competing OS got to Android’s level and suddenly became available on all carriers at lower prices with comperable apps, and then that OS would fill the same roll as Android and kill off the third place competitors, force Apple to cut prices and add carriers, and be different than Android mainly in being owned by Microsoft, HP, or RIM.

          2. “If Android did not exist either Apple would control 75+% of the market, or the iPhone would still be a single carrier $500+ device until a competing OS got to Android’s level and suddenly became available on all carriers at lower prices with comperable apps, and then that OS would fill the same roll as Android and kill off the third place competitors, force Apple to cut prices and add carriers, and be different than Android mainly in being owned by Microsoft, HP, or RIM.”

            I suppose. I personally don’t think Apple would have hit 75% for a couple of reasons, all of which is the carrier effect you cite. Under Jobs I don’t think Apple ever chased carriers, [except of course to get the ball rolling]. Cook seems to be more inclined to, but I don’t think either would do so to only chase market share, at least not just for the sake of market share. I think they are interested in carrier who can provide the backend to support the iPhone. I can’t think of any decision Apple has made for the purpose of chasing market share, even when they dominate market share, such as with the iPod.

            Keep in mind, it was the carriers, not Apple, who wanted lower prices, thus dragging iphone into subsidized device territory even before Android hit the shelves. It is the only way the carriers know how to do business. I wish T-Mobile the best of luck since I am the kind who would rather pay for the phone and be done with it instead of stretching my payments over two years.

            Apple operates deliberately under constrained distribution. I can’t think of any Android handset maker who does.


  4. The only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.
    What Google wants seems to be to get its cake and have it too. Yes it needs eyeballs from iOS but it is also envious or spitefully, or just likes to tinker with games, one-upmanship in the power play.
    Two can play childish games. Apple could choose to support all search engines in its ‘Settings’ and that would include my favourites, Start Page (which diabolically uses Google against itself), and worthy DuckDuckGo.
    Then watch Google scream.

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