Once-pilloried Apple Maps gets the last laugh

Since Google Maps was booted off iOS, the former first-party app shed 22 million monthly users and its reach declined three percentage points

Even after its extraordinary rough start last year, Apple Maps was used by nearly six out of every 10 U.S. iPhone owners during September, according to data recently published by metrics firm comScore.

The rival Google Maps, meanwhile, shed an estimated 22.3 million users on Android and Apple smartphones during that same stretch, signaling that on most iPhones, Apple's own mapping app has replaced that of the Cupertino, Calif. company's one-time partner.

Contrary to many headlines Monday, however, Google Maps is not fading into oblivion: With the growth in smartphone owners overall, Google Maps was still used by nearly 59 million people in September 2013, or 23.7 million more than Apple Maps.

In fact, Apple Maps' user share on the iPhone has fallen in each of the three months July, August and September, dropping from 63.7% in the first to 58.3% in the last and losing nearly 2 million users monthly in the process.

Ridiculed when it debuted in September 2012, Apple Maps was widely panned for its inaccurate maps, off-kilter points-of-interest, missing streets and addresses, distorted landmarks, omitted public transit maps, and more.

Within days of its debut on iOS 6, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued a public apology, a rarity among technology companies, Apple included. In an open letter, Cook said the company was "extremely sorry for the frustration" its Maps app had caused customers.

Although Cook got kudos from public relations experts for the apology, one industry analyst called the Maps gaffe as bad as the "Antennagate" dustup in 2010 when Phone 4 owners reported that signal strength plummeted and calls were interrupted if they touched the newly-redesigned smartphone in certain ways.

By comScore's data, Apple weathered the Maps blunder, just as it did Antennagate two years before. Of the estimated 60 million iPhone owners in the U.S. in September, approximately 35 million, or 58.3%, used Apple Maps at least once during the month.

"It was never as bad a product as people complained about," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst with Technology Business Research. "And it got better."

comScore has not published Google Maps usage data separately for Android and iPhone, but of the combined 136.7 million Americans with a smartphone powered by either Android or iOS, 58.8 million, or 43% of the total, ran Google Maps in September.

That was down from approximately 81 million in September 2012, when Google Maps was used by 78% of all Android and iOS smartphones in the U.S.

Google released an iPhone Maps app in December 2012, several weeks after it had been replaced by Apple Maps on iOS 6. Some predicted it would soon reclaim its position as the go-to mapping app on iPhones.

But Google Maps has been at a disadvantage. As Gottheil said late last year, it was likely that most iPhone owners would stick with Apple Maps, even though it was troubled.

He stuck to that today. "Apple Maps has the advantage. It's on the first page [of the home screen], it's already on the iPhone. It's right there, it works fine. So unless you have a reason to switch, you're going to stick with Apple Maps," said Gottheil in an interview Tuesday.

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