Apple Wins (For Now) Map Wars On Home Court Advantage

by , Nov 12, 2013, 9:09 AM
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I hazard a guess that most iOS users don’t even think twice when they load the default Apple Maps app onto their iPhone. This after Apple had its most public fail in anyone’s memory -- the replacement of Google Maps in iOS 6. Remember the goofy directions, the mis-directions, the fact that the original icon for the map app itself appears to be directing the user off of an overpass? The Tim Cook mea culpa? All of those references to the brand’s decline after Steve Jobs’ death? Remember the press coverage when Google reissued its own maps app for iOS? Just wait for the giant sucking sound of people rushing to embrace their old favorite on the iPhone deck, the tech press gushed.

Well -- even if you remember all of that, most of you now forgot it. According to a report at the UK Guardian, citing comScore data and its own analysis, Apple Maps maintains an overwhelming share of iOS map usage. In September, Apple had 35 million unique users of its map app in the U.S. The Guardian estimates that only about 6 million people used Google Maps on iOS in that time, although the service has a larger cross-platform reach of 58.7 million on iOS and Android. Guardian adds that by its calculations 2 million of the Google Maps users on iOS are there because they can’t upgrade older phones to iOS6 or iOS 7.

Which is to say that Google did not, in the end, lure those droves of purportedly enraged Apple customers to its app. Personally, I never had a problem with Apple Maps -- well, except when it got my daughter stuck in an industrial park instead of my in-law's house. In that case it was MapQuest that actually outperformed both Apple and Google. And who knows how many missteps it has given me over the past year that I just chalked up to the weaknesses of digital maps generally. I am not sure if I ever blamed Apple per se.

If Apple has a home court advantage, however, that is evidenced clearly in these metrics -- it does not enjoy Google’s cross-platform power. A key advantage of Google Maps is your ability to save and see map searches and directions regardless of the device or platform. Apple does not have the desktop map muscle Google has, but apparently it doesn’t need it. For my part, the Google Maps app is most handy when I scope and address and direction on my desktop and want to access it on the device I most need it -- my phone. I can see Google in only the first stages of promoting these unique attributes of Chrome/Google across platforms, but they could do so much more.

I still don’t get why “Send to/save to device” commands are not standard for any publisher of any kind who has a cross-screen clientele. Their dearth of really good content throwing tools within apps just underscores how developers are still chasing users and their habits. Almost all of us use email for instance as the push-to-self tool for all manner of things. Imagine a cross platform world where I could highlight material, dates, links, etc. on one screen so that apps on another would surface this content and alert you that it is waiting. The art of pushing and pulling content effortlessly across screen, to ourselves and to others, is still on mobile’s to do list.

Once Google gets its own marketing to consumers in gear, then Apple may have something to worry about. Until then, the power of Apple Maps’ default location remains unassailable, if not for good qualitative reasons. 

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