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Why a new Google Maps for iOS 6 won’t be a replacement for Apple Maps

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Google Maps in iOS 5 was a superior user experience to the new Apple Maps app introduced in iOS 6, but it doesn’t mean that if Google launches a new Google Maps app for iOS it will be equal to the version that was integrated into iOS for so many years.  This has nothing to do with how many features Google would implement, or how accurate its mapping data is. It has more to do with how users will be able to access the app.

Launching the Maps app, Apple’s way

Apple built its own Maps app to be integrated into other apps.  It provides maps or directions for several apps Apple offers as well as third-party apps. For instance, from within Contacts, you can tap on an address and launch directly into the Apple Maps app.  In both mobile Safari and the Mail apps, any text that resembles an address listed becomes a launch point into the Apple Maps app as well.  The Apple Store app, Find My Friends, Find My iPhone, basically any app that has a location information in it has an opportunity to launch to the Apple Maps app directly.

Contacts to Apple Maps app
Integration of Maps in Contacts

With the introduction of iOS 6, Apple has enhanced the ability for third-party apps to launch into the Apple Maps app. This was accomplished by improving the integration between third-party apps and the Apple Maps app through a series of new features in Apple’s own MapKit API, the technology framework that developers of iOS apps utilize when developing location-aware applications.  Not only has the way third-party apps launch into the Apple Maps app been extended to allow more information to be easily passed from app to app using what is referred to as a MKMapItem, third-party apps can also register with the the Apple Maps app as an app that can provide region-specific routing information by including a geographic coverage file.

Registered Routing Apps
Launch from Maps to Transit apps

Even with this new integration in iOS 6, looking at all of the other mapping apps available in the App Store, not one of them integrate into the stock Apple apps that come pre-installed on the device, or third-party apps downloaded from the App Store, in the same way that Apple’s Maps app does.  This will likely be the case for Google’s Maps app if it reaches the App Store as well.  In other words, a new Google Maps app for iOS 6 won’t work the same way Google Maps did on iOS 5 and earlier.  When you click on an address in the Contacts app, or within an email message in the Mail app, or anywhere else, you will continue launch into the Apple Maps app.  Having a Google Maps app on the device will not bring back the same Maps experience the you had in the past.

Launching the Maps app, Google’s way

Google might try to anyway. To see how Google can attempt to bring back a similar Maps experience, we can take a cue from what it has been doing with the apps it already has on iOS.  Google has posted a common technique for third-party developers to use that will launch into Google’s Chrome browser rather than Safari.  This technique will first check to see if Google’s Chrome app is installed on the device.  If it is, the third-party app can then launch into Google’s Chrome app directly.

Launch to Google Chrome

This utilizes a well known and documented app-to-app launching capability built into iOS referred to as using Custom URL Schemes.  Using URL schemes is an Apple-supported means of launching from one app to another. The default behavior would of course be to launch directly into Apple’s Safari browser, which uses one of the system-supported URL schemes.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the technique that Google is suggesting that developers use this.

Launch Google Chrome from Search
Launch from Search to Chrome

This technique could easily be extended to Google’s yet-to-be-released Maps app as well.  This would provide a means for Google to launch into their Maps app from any of the existing Google apps you have installed on your iOS device.  And as Google has provided the technique to third-party app developers on how to do this with Chrome, as pictured below in the Feeddler app, it stands to reason they will likely try do the same with their Google Maps app.

Launch Google Chrome from Feeddler
Example of Google Chrome Integration

This creates a potential opportunity for Google to integrate all of its iOS apps into one cohesive and consistent user experience that it can control.  If you install Google’s Chrome, GMail, Maps and Search app, then you could turn your iOS device effectively into a Google device.  Launching to and from each of Google’s apps would be seamless as they will all be optimized to work well with each other.

Battle of the apps

The problem with Google’s technique, from an end user’s point of view, is that it potentially removes the user’s ability to choose which app combinations they want to use.  The suggested technique programmatically checks first to see if the Google app is installed on the device, and if it is, launch to the Google app instead of the Apple app.  As an example, if you first install a travel app on your device, and you needed directions, it would launch to the Apple Maps app.  But, later, should you install the Google Maps app on your device, the same travel app you installed previously would now launch to the Google Maps app instead — unless that app’s developer exposes an option to switch back and forth this will happen automatically.

Choosing to implement the Google-recommended techniques to launch Google’s apps on iOS, third-party developers will be able to choose to exclusively be part of the Google series of apps.  Google could even aggressively start reaching out to developers as a means of including them in the Google iOS experience rather than the Apple iOS experience.  It would take a complete replacement of the stock apps Apple includes with iOS to bring back the same integrated experience we once had with Google’s Maps app.  With more than 20 apps in the iOS App Store already, all Google would need is a Compass, Flashlight and decent Contacts app to be complete.

14 Responses to “Why a new Google Maps for iOS 6 won’t be a replacement for Apple Maps”

  1. Just show me a way to remove apple maps and how to make googles new map app the default map. Life’s too short to wait for apple to sort their map app. Quite frankly I would never trust their map if they say its sorted.

  2. My trusted iPhone4 is now starting to fail me. This has by far been the best mobile phone I have ever owned. Normally I would buy a new phone every 5-6 months. Samsung and HTC phones actually used to fail within this time. Nokias survived virtually everything, but their batteries did not. After more than two years of hard use, my iPhone now need a replacement. But I really don’t know what to buy. I don’t quite like android, and windows does not have the apps I need. Then I’m stuck with iPhone. I am getting a bit bored of ios, but my main concern is the lack of googlemaps with streetview. I just cannot buy a new iPhone if there won’t be a googlemaps app available. I am also a bit worried about the iPhone5 quality. All of the black iPhones I looked at in an app store were scratched/paint worn off and quite ugly to look at . So for the moment there will be no new iPhone for me. Even though I hate the idea of returning to Samsung…

  3. Martijn van der Spek

    Apple is currently reviewing the next update to Sparkling Maps, which will include iPad support, turning it into a universal app. It also improves further on the turn by turn navigation. It is the best alternative available on iOS6 at the moment. And at least Sparkling Maps can plan routes between ‘minor’ cities such as Beijing and Delhi, for which Apple maps responds ‘not found’. The streetview of Sparkling Maps works well, including the function to find the nearest place with streetview, if the exact location doesn’t have it.

  4. Yinyang1959

    I rue the day I upgraded my iPhone 4S to the ios6 software. As a heavy user of google maps, I was bitterly disappointed & highly pissed. Even so, I bought a ipad mini for features other than maps while hoping google maps would return. Being able to view the maps on a larger device would be awesome. However, today discovered when trying to access google maps website as,I would on my pc, via Safari, I discovered that Apple had crippled the website tremendously. THAT is pretty effin low, if you ask me. Having been a huge fan of the iphone beginning with my 3GS three years ago, I am very disgruntled & as soon as possible will switch to an android device even though I feel ino other respects the iPhone is still superior. My daughter says just buy a GPS. I could, but the point is I could access this technology anywhere, anytime because I always had my phone with me.. The whole point is he need for only one device. I don’t want to purchase a GPS for my car & another for my motorcycle. The only saving grace is I still have my 3GS & it can tether to my 4s. Just have to make sure I have both devices with me. And that’s an inconvenience. Apple needs to get over it or as soon as those of us under contract are eligible for upgrade, it won’t be to another Appel product!

  5. Sparkle Maps is a scam, don’t fall for it. Just wasted .99c and it doesn’t even work as well as the Apple Maps. Feels like someone learning to program iOS got Google Maps displaying in the app but it doesn’t work at all.