Google released the much anticipated Google Maps iPhone app yesterday and the reviews so far are pretty good. I personally didn’t think that the Apple Maps were as bad as they were made out to be, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion. What this whole saga shows is the importance of competition and why so much focus on monopolies is paid by governments around the world.
First, a little background: the original maps application on the iphone was developed at the very last minute before the original iPhone launch by an Apple/Google team back in 2008. That just goes to show you how important maps have become, in 2008 it was an afterthought . Four years later and nothing had changed, Google actually refused to license their maps data to Apple so that it could be enhanced with new features such as spoken driving directions. For many reasons, this being one of them, Apple decided to venture out on their own. We all know what happened next: huge uproar, people almost dying in deserts in Australia, apple execs were fired, and a written apology was given from the Apple CEO.
Fast forward to today. Customers now have the choice between Apple Maps (and their advantages) and the new Google maps application. There is no doubt that what Google just deployed is significantly better than what was available in iOS 5, it includes a slicker UI, better transit map integration, and voice driving directions. I’m willing to bet Google would not have created this app in such a quick timeline if Apple hadn’t upped the anti by putting out their own app.
One of the things that doesn’t seem to get any press is the neat stuff now supported by iOS 6 for transit directions. Sure, Apple doesn’t have them integrated, but they do provide a means for 3rd party app developers to tie into the iPhone maps. When I use the Rover app (link), it not only gives me transit directions but also pulls in real-time transit data telling me when buses and subway cars are going to arrive in San Francisco (and I assume other cities as well, like Boston). This is better than what I had in the iOS 5 Google maps and as far as I can tell it’s better than what Google released yesterday in their new app. Publishing a schedule of when buses are supposed to arrive is signficantly less useful than knowing when exactly they will actually arrive.
Bottom line: yes, Apple has looked awful through this whole mess, but because they took a gamble and pushed for innovation, iPhone owners are no doubt in a better spot than they were previously. There is now an all out war between these two companies to keep innovating. For me, companies going at each other’s throats is a good thing and is why capitalism has become THE economic system in the world today.