Google’s Jeff Huber announced Monday that the new Google Maps for iPhone was downloaded more than 10 million times in the two days after its release. It has already racked up more than 20,000 ratings averaging 4.5 out of 5. That looks like a collective sigh of relief from iOS users.
Even though Apple’s Maps interface is pretty good, the mapping data just can’t stand up to Google’s. Google has a massive advantage. As Alexis Madrigal at the Atlantic pointed out last week, Google has so many people manually maintaining its mapping data that Apple can’t catch up.
The reason: Maps are just more important to Google’s business than they are to Apple’s. Google can spend money to make money here, because if Google Maps are the best in the world, it’s what everyone will use to find where they’re going to eat, to shop, to see a movie, et cetera – and that’s an advertising gold mine. It would be a distraction for Apple to pour that kind of effort into mapping just to sell it as a feature of a phone.
But as long as Apple Maps are good enough, Apple will be fine. There was a little while there where I was worried that the users would get screwed by Apple and Google’s inability to agree on mutually satisfying terms, but now there’s a Google Maps experience that’s mind-bogglingly better than what we had in iOS 5 and before.
As is the rub with all third-party iOS apps for basic services, Google Maps can’t replace the built-in Maps app as the default. This problem is much less annoying for Maps than it is for other services like email, though.
You can’t search for directions through Siri in Google Maps, but you can do speech-to-text right into the Google Maps search box. Google’s other apps, such as the nice new Gmail app, will open directions in Google Maps easily. And other third-party apps can choose to use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps to provide maps and directions, and I’m betting that many of them will.
Apple has eaten its humble pie around Maps. Not only has CEO Tim Cook fired senior vice president Scott Forstall, who oversaw all of iOS, and the manager responsible for Maps, he has issued a public apology for the low quality of Apple’s mapping data, and the App Store now features outside mapping apps prominently.
Google Maps for iPhone is free on the App Store.