A Great iOS Google Maps Product Vindicates Apple's Strategy

A blog about business and economics.
Dec. 13 2012 8:21 AM

A Great iOS Google Maps Product Vindicates Apple's Strategy

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NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10: People walk through the Apple retail store in Grand Central Terminal on December 10, 2012 in New York City.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Google's much-anticipated iOS Maps application is out today and the early accounts are that it's awesome, much better than either Apple's new Maps program or its Google-powered predecessor. I haven't had time to play around with it properly, but I hope people will understand that if it's as good as it sounds, it's a vindication of Apple's business strategy in launching its own Maps product.

Recall that the problem with the old Maps wasn't that it wasn't as good as the new Maps. The problem is that it was distinctly inferior to Google Maps for Android. And that wasn't a coincidence. Google is happy to make apps and provide online services for iOS users, but they'd rather have everyone use Android for their mobile purposes. So a situation in which Google provided the data for the best iOS mapping app while ensuring that the best iOS mapping app was distinctly inferior to the best Android mapping app was ideal for them. But for Apple that dynamic is bad news. Its deeper app ecosystem is one of the main selling points of iOS, but who really cares about a "deep" ecosystem if your shallow ecosystem of core services like mapping sucks? So by ditching Google and launching their own competing product they at least create a situation where it's possible that great maps software might come to iOS.

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One way to do that would be for Apple to make the best map program in the world. So far, they haven't done that. But while Google wants to promote Android, Google also doesn't want to lose the vast customer base that is iPhone and iPad map users. So they've responded by writing a Google Maps program that's much better than the old Google Maps—one that feature vector graphics and spoken directions and Google's superior mapping data.

So pride aside, from Apple's viewpoint this is a win. Apple's not in the maps business, they're in the device and platform business. Their problem as of a year ago is that their platform didn't have a great maps program. Now it does. Mission accomplished.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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