A simple market-based solution to Apple Maps vs. Google Maps

Charge for them.

Let users be customers and not just consumers. Let demand engage supply the old fashioned way: by paying for goods and services, and making the sellers directly accountable to buyers in a truly competitive marketplace.

Here’s the thing. We, the customers of Apple and the consumers of both Apple’s and Google’s free map services, are getting screwed by value-subtracting games played by both companies.

Millions of us are highly dependent on our phones’ primary maps app. From the beginning on the iPhone that app has been Google’s — or at least seemed to be. By replacing it with a shamefully lame app by the same name, Apple screwed its customers, hard. Why? Because it wanted to screw Google. And why screw Google? Because Google had been screwing both Apple and iPhone/iPad customers for the duration.

Or so I assume. I really don’t know.

A few days ago I asked A question about Apple vs. Google maps. Noting that Google’s Maps app on iPhone lacked at least two features found on Android versions of the app — adaptive turn-by-turn directions and vocalization — I wondered out loud if Google was playing a passive-aggressive game with Apple by crippling the iOS version of the app. One commenter said it was Apple’s choice not to include those features; but in a New York Times column a few days ago, David Pogue confirmed my original suspicion:

After poking around, here’s what I’ve learned.

First, why Apple dropped the old version: Google, it says, was saving all the best features for phones that run its Android software. For example, the iPhone app never got spoken directions or vector maps (smooth lines, not tiles of pixels), long after those features had come to rival phones.

Hey, if that’s the case, and if I were Apple, I’d be pissed too — and I’d want to offer a better maps app than Google’s. As an iPhone and iPad user, I’ve been annoyed for years at Google for obviously crippling its iOS Maps app. (Datum: I’m also an Android user.) But now it bothers me a lot more that Google hardly seems to mind that Apple killed the Google-sourced Maps app for the entire iOS 6 user base. Why would Google be so blasé? One big reason is that Apple’s users pay nothing for the app. And, because users pay nothing, Google can ignore those users’ suffering while relishing the sight of Apple embarrassing itself.

To fully understand what’s going on here, it is essentiall to respect the difference between customers and users (aka consumers). Customers pay. By not paying, and functioning only as a user, you have little if any economic leverage. Worse, you’re the product being sold to the actual customers, which are advertisers.

This Google vs. Apple thing reminds me of my days in commercial broadcasting. There too consumers and customers were different populations. Consumers were listeners and viewers whose ears and eyeballs were sold to advertisers, who were the real customers. Listeners and viewers had no leverage when a station or a network got in the mood to kill a format, or a show. We’re in the same spot here, at least in respect to Google.

With Apple it’s different, because iPhone and iPad users are actual customers of Apple. Now chagrined, Apple is pressing that advantage, starting with Tim Cook’s open letter to customers. An excerpt:

We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

If you buy an iPhone you’re already paying for the Maps app. So this post is mostly for Google. While I think an apology is owed to iPhone and iPad users, for withholding features just to disadvantage those devices against Android (if in fact that’s what happened… I still don’t know for sure), I’d rather see Google offer Google Maps for sale, at a fair price, in the Apple Apps store. And I’d like to see Apple approve that product for sale, pronto.

Trust me: plenty of customers will pay. Google will not only drive home the real value of its Maps app (and all the good work behind it), but get some long-overdue practice at doing real customer service. Google’s high dependence on a single source of revenue — advertising — is a vulnerability that can only be reduced by broadening the company’s businesses. The future of selling direct has been looming at Google for a long time. There is a great opportunity, right now, to do that in a big way with Google Maps.

Data wants to be free, but value wants to be paid for. Let us pay. We’re the damed market. Let us help you work out the kinks in your products. Develop real relationships with us, and provide real customer support that’s worth what we pay for it.

[Later...] Some tweets, sort of threaded:

@Owen Barder@carlkalapesi @dsearls seems to be wrong to say that Google has until now had it’s app in IOS. It was an Apple app. [Link.]

@Kevin Marks: No, @dsearls, the old Maps app on iPhone was written by Apple, using Google APIs. Apple vetoed Google’s own app in ’09. [Link]

@Jamie Starke@kevinmarks @dsearls citation needed [Link]

@Kevin Marks: @jamiestarke @dsearls http://wireless.fcc.gov/releases/9182009_Google_Filing_iPhone.pdf … Google Latitude was rejected because Apple believed it could replace the preloaded maps app (p3) [Link]

So are you (Owen and Kevin) saying David Pogue got bad info from Apple in the piece quoted above?

Either way, the question then is, Who crippled the old Maps app? Was it Google, Apple, or both? Also, Why?

I still stand by my recommendation that Google offer the map for sale on iOS. And on Android too, for the reasons I give above.

Meanwhile, somebody ought to put up a post, or a site, explaining the particulars of this case. Such as whose app Maps was, and is now. Most stories (seems to me) about the fracas say the old app was Google’s. If it wasn’t, and was instead an Apple map fed by the Google API, that needs to be made clear. I’m still fuzzed around the details here.

[Later (1 October)...] Christina Bonnington in Wired says it was Apple’s decision not to include turn-by-turn directions in the Maps app. She writes,

When iOS first launched in the iPhone in 2007, Apple embraced Google Maps as its mapping back-end. But over the years, rivalry between the tech giants increased to a fever pitch. So it’s likely that Apple decided some years ago to eventually abandon Google Maps, and create its own platform. And because Apple knew it was eventually going to drop Google as its back-end, there was no point in pushing further innovation or integration with the system doomed to a limited lifespan.

But do I believe her, just because she’s writing for Wired? Do I believe David Pogue, just because he’s writing for the NY Times? Obviously, they don’t agree. At least one is wrong about whether the Maps app was crippled by Google (says David) or Apple (says Christina). At this point I can’t believe either of them. For that I’ll need. at the very least, a quote from a source who knows. I mean, really knows.

Mother Jones‘ original slogan was, “You trust your mother. But you cut the cards.” So here’s my card-cutting: I want hard facts on exactly what happened here. Who made the decision not to include turn-by-turn and voice directions in the Maps app on iOS? It had to have been Apple, Google or some combination of both. Which was it? How? And why?

[Later (2 October)...] In Voice navigation killed Apple-Google maps talks, John Paczkowski of Fox News does the best job I’ve seen yet of pulling the covers back on what actually happened:

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said Apple should have continued to use Google’s mapping application in iOS 6 instead of swapping it out for its poorly received home-brewed replacement, and given the sour reception Apple’s Maps app has been given, he may have been right.

But multiple sources familiar with Apple’s thinking say the company felt it had no choice but to replace Google Maps with its own, because of a disagreement over a key feature: Voice-guided turn-by-turn driving directions.

Spoken turn-by-turn navigation has been a free service offered through Google’s Android mobile OS for a few years now. But it was never part of the deal that brought Google’s Maps to iOS. And sources say Apple very much wanted it to be. Requiring iPhone users to look directly at handsets for directions and manually move through each step — while Android users enjoyed native voice-guided instructions — put Apple at a clear disadvantage in the mobile space…

Apple pushed Google hard to provide the data it needed to bring voice-guided navigation to iOS. But according to people familiar with Google’s thinking, the search giant, which had invested massive sums in creating that data and views it as a key feature of Android, wasn’t willing to simply hand it over to a competing platform.

And if there were terms under which it might have agreed to do so, Apple wasn’t offering them. Sources tell AllThingsD that Google, for example, wanted more say in the iOS maps feature set. It wasn’t happy simply providing back-end data. It asked for in-app branding. Apple declined. It suggested adding Google Latitude. Again, Apple declined. And these became major points of contention between the two companies, whose relationship was already deteriorating for a variety of other reasons, including Apple’s concern that Google was gathering too much user data from the app.

“There were a number of issues inflaming negotiations, but voice navigation was the biggest,” one source familiar with Apple and Google’s negotiations told AllThingsD. “Ultimately, it was a deal-breaker.”

There’s more from John Paczkowski in All Things D.

So maybe we’ll never know. “Sources” will, but the rest of us won’t.