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

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"It comes down to whether what comes installed is good enough," Gottheil continued. "Most people aren't necessarily looking for the best, but for something that's just good enough."

comScore's statistics show that Google Maps' decline started almost immediately after it was pulled from iOS. By December 2012, the second month after Apple Maps' debut, Google Maps' usage share had dropped to 66% from September's 78%, and the estimated number of U.S. Android smartphone and iPhone owners who used the app fell to 74.6 million, down from September's 81 million.

The impact on Google will be significant, but not dramatic, said Gottheil, referring to its map app's decline in use on the iPhone and thus its shorter "reach" in the U.S. "Maps gives Google another way to 'map' users locations so that it can sell them ads, but it's not the only way they can pinpoint someone," said Gottheil. By signing in to Google search on an iPhone, for example, Google can -- with the user's permission -- track their location.

"What is important is that Google no longer has the leverage over Apple," Gottheil said, because Apple has brought that crucial part of the mobile experience in-house.

First-party app advantage is nothing new: It made Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browser a powerhouse on Windows. But Apple Maps' success hammers home the idea that third-party software, even from the largest developers, has a tough time supplanting, as Gottheil called it, "good enough" apps.

That doesn't bode well for Microsoft, which has declined to offer a native app of its Office productivity suite for Android tablets or the iPad, only to see both Google and Apple provide first-party alternatives in Quickoffice and iWork.

Not everything has gone Apple's way with maps lately, however. According to comScore's data, Apple Maps' use has slipped since July, from an estimated 36.9 million then to 35 million in September, the most recent month for which comScore has released information. Since July, the portion of U.S. iPhone owners who have used Apple Maps at least once each month has dropped from 63.7% in July to 62.4% in August and then to 58.3% in September.

But those declines have not been matched by a corresponding increase in Google Maps use. Just the opposite. In September, about 58.8 million U.S. smartphone owners used Google Maps at least once; in July, the number was 61.1 million.

It's unclear what drove the dips -- comScore makes public just a fraction of its total dataset -- but it's possible that Android smartphone and iPhone owners are using other mapping apps, or simply using all such apps, including Google Maps and Apple Maps, less frequently.

During the same July-September span, the number of Americans who owned an Android or iOS smartphone grew from 132.3 million to 136.7 million.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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