Why is Google so worried about Apple’s new iOS 6 Maps?
September 28th, 2012
Daniel Eran Dilger
When a competitor releases a super crappy, no good turd of a product and brags it up way past the point where it should, the smartest thing to do is exactly the opposite of what Google is doing with regard to Apple’s iOS 6 Maps.
This means that either Apple’s Maps is a super crappy, no good turd of a product and Google is being really stupid, or that something else is happening. Let’s see if we can figure this one out together.
For starters, let’s look at some truly super crappy, no good product turds. After all, that’s one of my favorite things to do.
Turds on parade
In retrospect, all the turds I have ridiculed in the past are not even controversial in their no-goodness at this point, so I don’t have to really detail why they were awful again. Don’t think about your past opinion of these product for a moment; just consider that they all ended up as commercial failures.
Consider for a moment how, for instance, Apple responded to the Zune. And the Surface (big ass table, not the lightweight tablet specification, but that works too, really). And Windows Marketplace. And Windows Phone. Nary a word uttered.
Now it sounds like I’m picking on Microsoft, so think about Apple’s response to the Palm Pre, the BlackBerry Storm, or RIM’s PlayBook/Amazon’s Kindle Fire, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, Motorola Xoom, Google TV, Galaxy Player and the Nexus Q.
If you can’t remember the details, it’s because there weren’t really any details. In total, Apple’s response to the entire gamut of these products was essentially one comment made by Steve Jobs in late 2010 where he predicted that 7 inch tablets were going to be DOA in the market, without really ever dwelling on the name or brand identity of those “tweeners” on sale.
Apple has also made a few comments about “copycats” in general, first about Windows and then about all the Android tablets that didn’t gain any traction in 2010 as predicted. But that’s about it, apart from on notable exception: Apple once spent a significant amount of time lamenting “the PC” and all of its various problems.
On several occasions, those “Get a Mac” adds actually said “Windows,” and at one point even “Vista,” but it was rare enough to deserve mention when it occurred. Keep in mind that during that campaign, Apple’s market share in PCs was around 2-5%, a tiny underdog. Apple isn’t talking about Windows or even PCs much anymore.
Enjoy the silence
When it came to Android, however, Apple executives, and famously Jobs himself, started to get more vocal in an upset, defensive sounding tone, even though you could tell they were trying to maintain a stoic poker face.
That’s because while nobody at Apple had any real fear of Symbian or Windows Mobile or JavaME or PalmOS or webOS, there was real concern about Android, the OS originated by a former Apple employee and advised throughout its development by a certain mole sitting on Apple’s board of directors.
In concert with its annoyance with Google’s Android, Apple had also watched its biggest hardware partner stab it in the back (and I specifically mean Samsung, not Intel) by leaking confidential information from one end of the company (the chip fab) to the other (mobile products) through the world’s worst firewall since the the 1971 Ford Pinto.
And when you combine Apple’s lack of affection for Android with its scathing distaste for Samsung’s Galaxy Stab, you have this terrible affront to everything Apple cares about, wrapped up with the very real commercial threat posed by the combination of what Apple sees as the most heinous ripping off of its software with the most egregious efforts to steal its hardware design.
For Apple, there has been a very real possibility that the slow wheels of justice will once again ineffectually turn so very slowly that its own partners will be allowed, as it is forced to watch, to steal its greatest artwork, scrub off its name, and embellish the work instead with the signature of something like “Samsung Galaxy Nexus Webuiltthis Withoutanyhelp II V 2500i with Android 5.3 Nutella Wafer.”
Even if you absolutely hate Apple and everything it stands for right down to its very skeuomorphic stitches, you have to appreciate that Apple has a deep, loathing contempt for Android and at the same time, is a bit scared shitless that the 2010s will suddenly turn back into the 1990s and a team of braying philistine asses who have never appreciated a fine thing in life will steal away everything that is good about well designed technology and instead turn the world back into a Nerdy Dark Age where befuddled peasants cower before the PC lords and tech high priests who parcel out filthy nuggets of crap to a desperately hungry global population unaware of its own captivity to mediocrity.
And yet, Apple still cautiously avoids ever actually voicing any opinion or comment about Android or Samsung to the best of its ability.
Your own, personal, Jesus
Watching Apple deal with Android is like being a kid at a Christmas pageant watching Our Lord and Christ Jesus be bound nearly naked, spit upon and beaten with his skin shred in horrific bleeding detail until he is nailed up and his legs are broken to hasten his death, and you think, “kill them all Jesus, you’re a God!” but nothing happens and you realize it’s not really entertainment but rather some serious adult ideological, metaphorical portrayal of our own internal spiritual struggles and you go off to play with your Transformers instead.
And then three months later you’re collecting rabbit eggs and you hear the rest of the story, and it turns out Jesus wakes up and it was all a dream and now he’s glowing radiantly and all the really violent suffering is over and he doesn’t even worry about it anymore because there is a new more important mission ahead that, depending on your brand of religion, either involves going to heaven to play harps, conquering poor people and taking their resources, living forever on earth as beautiful teenagers or inheriting one’s own planet in exchange for a two year missionary stint.
And you realize that no matter how bad things look and how stressed out you are, nothing really matters because you can just start over at any point and write your own future. And you achieve enlightenment. And go play with your Transformers again.
And then we have Google
But not everything is like that. Sometimes people just get stuck in a particular mindset and stay there, captive to their own prejudices and delusional fantasies about how things ought to be and must forever remain.
Such as: there will never be a better device for typing in messages than a tiny keyboard built by RIM. Or there will never be anything as clever and fast and animated as webOS running on a dual core chip. Or that there is no room for a product too big for your pocket but too simple to be a desktop PC. Or that nobody else in the world will ever create a maps service that rivals Google.
Since iOS 6 shipped, we haven’t heard anything but a frantic mass of reports squirming in histrionics over how aghast they are about their deep, shuddering revulsion to the new Maps.
I mean, if you turn the new 3D feature on, the entire surface of the world is not rendered without flaw as a perfect model that remains synchronized with reality in 30fps real time fluidity. It’s nothing like the Eye of Sauron at all, more like a mobile app that depicts regular maps for simple and pedestrian uses like planning a trip.
Now I’m writing with some over the top artistic license here, but we’re talking about a mobile app that shows maps. It’s going to do a lot more, but for version 1.0, it’s a car route planner with some explorational features and business listings.
Apple isn’t a software company, right?
I mean, honestly, Apple’s new Maps is software from the company that delivered Garage Band and iMovie, and a cloud synced spreadsheet, presentation designer and page layout applications you run with your finger. I’m sure Maps isn’t anything Google has to worry about, right?
After all, Google has produced an endless string of software hits: monetizing search with paid placement, writing web apps. Setting up a linux distro. Well wait, that’s about it. Oh right: and they claimed credit for Apple’s WebKit browser, just like Amazon and Alibaba have taken the Android that Google took from Sun (but that’s how FOSS is supposed to work).
Sure, Google has tried to do more. Answers, Buzz, Catalogue, Dodgeball, Jaiku, Knol, Lively, Google+, Nexus One, Notebook, Print Ads, Google TV, Video, Wave, Q. And it buys up two or three whole companies every month just to shut them down at great and impressive expense, rather like the Roman Empire. That should last forever.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Google Maps isn’t a great product. But it’s a rare success for Google, and one of the very few things capable of both generating some revenue now and growing into the future. It’s really, really important to the company.
So that’s why we are hearing so much aggrieved tongue wagging about how desperately, grievously bad iOS 6 Maps is, from the same people who have for years defended Google’s use of the world “beta” as a novel way to throw out unfinished crap and have people use it until it’s functional.
Yes, that’s right, the people who have been putting up with Android’s stuttery user interface and buggy, security flawed everything for the last four years are now appalled that Apple’s Maps doesn’t let one fly to the Falkland Islands without having to resort to pulling up maps.google.com to navigate through the sheep there.
This all happened before
This time however, “beta” isn’t good enough, because we’re talking about Apple, a company that doesn’t play by Google’s more lenient standards of usability. The solution to restoring Apple’s vaunted reputation for high quality, it seems, is for Apple to restore Google Maps to iOS 6.
Apparently, Google and its bipolar quality control fans didn’t notice how well it worked out for Adobe to publicly demand, as loudly as possible for two years, that the iPad desperately needed support for Adobe Flash right now, or else they were going to keep stomping their feet in outrage.
Social media engagement was such a powerful tool for Adobe in coercing Apple into supporting Flash, wasn’t it?
And teaming up with RIM, Palm, Windows Mobile and in particular Android and Google’s new Honeycomb tablets was an effective way to leverage the world community to get Apple to shackle itself and all its web browsing customers to Adobe’s plugin, remember?
And to show Apple how to do it, Google spared no expense to make it possible to watch YouTube videos on Android via Flash just as easily as watching the same videos via H.264 on iOS. At least until it and Adobe both abandoned Flash too, just a few months later.
All those people who spent uncountable hours in message boards and leaving comments about how critically important Flash was to the world, and how totally unfinished HTML5 was (recall that the world’s greatest scientists had predicted that HTML5 wouldn’t be ready to animate graphics on the web until sometime in 2014, if we were lucky, at least acceding to Wikipedia)… it all just didn’t matter worth a damn in hindsight.
There are still, today, people who think that if they complain enough, Apple will be forced to go back and put an old version of iOS 5 Maps on iPhone 5. Curious.