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Summary:

Google isn’t doing itself any favors if it was trying to deflect attention away from a potential change in Apple’s mobile mapping strategy. Ahead of reports that Apple will dump Google Maps on the iPhone next week, the company introduced some minor upgrades and dodged questions.

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Had Google introduced something that really changed the mobile mapping landscape Wednesday during an event in San Francisco, you could believe it was an event they had planned for quite some time. Instead, by introducing some nice but incremental improvements to Google Maps for Android and Google Earth days before Apple is expected to introduce its own iOS mapping software, Google accomplished little other than forcing the company to dodge questions about the ramifications of losing the iPhone.

Google Maps has been one of the company’s most consistently useful and popular products ever since it was introduced, and the features demonstrated Wednesday at its San Francisco office were in that tradition. Google Maps users on Android will soon be able to download offline maps that will work in subways, subterranean buildings, or areas with spotty Internet connections. And Google Earth users on both Android and iOS will soon have a neat 3D user interface generated in typical Google fashion: the obsessive collection of useful data processed and analyzed by huge computing resources to produce something fun and practical.

But timing is everything. Google refused to say when the new features would become available, only saying that the offline maps for Android would become available “in the next few weeks.” And the launch of the 3D mapping features in Google Earth wasn’t even assigned a vague target. (Google didn’t immediately respond to an inquiry regarding when they decided to hold the event.)

Instead, Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Maps, gave equally vague responses to a half-dozen questions about the reports that Apple will replace Google Maps on the iPhone later this year with its own mobile mapping software, something that is expected to be announced Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

Google’s attempt to promote Google Maps ahead of that expected announcement–which is not coming as a surprise to Google executives if half the anecdotes in a long Wall Street Journal story on the topic are true–therefore fell flat. Nobody thinks that Apple is dumping Google Maps because it and iOS users believe Google has built an inferior product. Instead, Apple would prefer to deny Google a large source of local advertising and the reams of data that come along with intense usage of Google Maps on iOS.

Holding such an event now–these features could have easily been announced in a few weeks when Google will own the spotlight at Google I/O–only makes Google look that much more worried about its potential iOS problem.

And that’s before Apple has even shown off a product. If the reports are true, Apple is incurring a significant risk by trying to fix something in iOS that isn’t broken.

It’s therefore a little hard to understand why Google wouldn’t want wait to see what Apple has in mind before responding: after all, it might look pretty good in a side-by-side comparison.

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  1. So you think waiting for Apple to release a mapping product that contains 3D features, something Google had previously half-baked, and then waiting a few weeks to make the very same announcements would be a wiser, smarter idea?

    1. You said it yourself: Google already had 3D mapping features. They just showed off better ones and made no promises as to when or how they would appear. It’s not like if they waited until they were ready anybody could accuse them of having ripped off Apple, you can’t throw together thousands of photos taken by private planes in two weeks.

      There’s only one reason to hold such an event now: to plant seeds ahead of WWDC that Google Maps has a rich history and is still a strong product. But nobody thinks otherwise about Google Maps: it’s pretty clear Apple is dropping it because for political reasons.

      So why not just announce these features (3D, offline Android maps) at Google I/O or when they are ready? By trying to pre-empt Apple with a news event, it makes it impossible to ignore the WWDC context and forces McClendon to stand there like a deer in the headlights answering questions he can’t answer.

      1. Terrence Martineau Tom Krazit Wednesday, June 6, 2012

        no turn-by-turn directions, no much faster vector maps that android maps gets vs the bitmap tiles iOS gets etc, etc, etc is “political”.. Google maps on iOS is a gimped, shadow of Google Maps on android.. that’s why Apple is dropping it..

      2. @Terrence If you read the WSJ article about the long backstory of this dispute, it’s quite political: best friends in 2007 before Android angered Apple, Apple then accused Google of collecting too much info, Google then accused Apple of trying to exert too much control. Google then withheld features, Apple wouldn’t implement others, etc.

      3. Terrence Martineau Tom Krazit Thursday, June 7, 2012

        @Tom Krazit.. I understand all that.. but at the end of the day all the slap fighting with Google has caused maps on iOS to be substandard.. and it really is substandard.. Apple is updating maps because of real concrete reasons, not polictical ones and Apple needs to act.. no matter what the back story is.. and it looks like they are going to do just that.. so the ultimate cause of maps being substandard might be political, but the reason for Apple dumping Google Maps is to fix a real concrete problem that resulted from political in fighting.. maps on iOS right now IS substandard and needs to be fixed..

    2. @Tom Krazit

      You can call it “political” if you want, but “financial” is the bottom line.

  2. Albert Hartman Wednesday, June 6, 2012

    Actually, the Google’s iOS maps has been the slower tiled raster version. Only Android got the faster vector versions. If Apple wanted better mapping technology, it couldn’t rely on Google to supply them with it.

  3. What makes Google concerned, is messing with Apple a company that had OS 10 working on Intel chips for almost 10 years before it was released to public, there is a good possibility, Apple has been working this for a long time.

  4. That’s what Google does…eternal beta, and over promise/under deliver.
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