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Google Maps' return to iOS may not be permanent, says analyst

Apple couldn't reject Google Maps now, but it could down the line

December 14, 2012 01:16 PM ET

Computerworld - Google Maps' return to the iPhone and iPad this week may not be permanent, an analyst said today.

"It would have been out of the question," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research, referring to a rejection of Google's submission of Maps to the iOS App Store. Not only would that have been a public relations disaster, it would have flown in the face of Apple CEO Tim Cook's suggestion last September that dissatisfied customers use alternatives, including Google's Maps, which could be accessed through iOS' Safari browser.

"But down the line, if Apple feels they have a compelling reason, if they believe they then had a superior app, they may choose not to accept Google Maps in some future manifestation," Gottheil said. Apple has rejected apps before by citing duplication of effort with its own pre-installed apps.

"For now, Apple doesn't want to force their users to use their Map app," Gottheil continued. "But I can see that happening when a lot of money is at stake."

Google released its iOS Maps app late Wednesday, returning to the iPhone and iPad after a three-month forced absence. Apple dumped Google Maps with the release of iOS 6, which debuted Sept. 19 as an upgrade to older devices, and powers the new iPhone 5, iPad Mini and fourth-generation iPad.

Almost immediately, users began complaining that Apple's new Maps app was feeble at best, dangerous at worst. They cited the lack of public transit maps, inaccurate maps, off-kilter points-of-interest, missing streets and addresses, and more.

Some experts ranked the misstep as equal to or even greater than "Antennagate," the 2010 public relations fiasco when iPhone 4 owners reported that signal strength plummeted and calls were interrupted if they touched the newly-redesigned smartphone in certain ways.

Days later, Apple CEO Tim Cook responded with an apology, saying his company was "extremely sorry for the frustration" its Maps app had caused customers.

With that history, it was no surprise that Apple allowed its once-partner-now-cutthroat-rival to place a Maps app in the iOS App Store, said Gottheil. "Apple never wanted to keep Google Maps off the iPhone," he said. "It was to make Google Maps a non-standard app."

Gottheil has a point: While Google Maps immediately jumped to the No. 1 spot on the App Store's list of the bestselling free apps -- and as of Friday, remained there -- not every iPhone or iPad owner will download Google's app. Conversely, every iOS user has Apple's Maps app.

Nor was Apple's work on mapping for naught, Gottheil argued. "Apple's main purpose was to protect themselves from a possible decision by Google to withhold Maps in the future," he said. "It was a defensive move, a pre-emptive one, to make sure that [the iPhone's] future was assured."



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