Google Maps to Apple: get lost! Again!
13th Dec 2012 | 09:53
"That's not a maps app. THIS is a maps app."
There's a famous bit in the classic film Crocodile Dundee when a mugger pulls a knife on him. "That's not a knife," he chuckles, and pulls out an enormous Bowie knife. "THAT's a knife."
Today Google is Crocodile Dundee, because it's brought its maps back to iOS.
I've been travelling this week, and as a result I've been using Apple's maps quite a lot - and by "using", I mean I've been searching for things in Apple Maps, swearing when it doesn't know where they are, and looking them up in Google Maps in my phone's browser.
So when the Google Maps app appeared in iOS, the first thing I did was throw all the places Apple Maps didn't know at it. Not only did Google Maps know where they were, but it knew what I was looking for long before I finished typing.
So Apple's Maps app did the walk of shame: it's nestling in the same faraway folder that I keep Apple's Stocks app in, the folder where I store things I don't want and can't delete.
Once developers use the Google SDK to favour Google Maps over iOS's ones, I won't see Apple's cartography in their apps either.
A cartological catastrophe
It doesn't matter how much money Apple spends on its maps, or how talented and experienced the people working on the project are. It's too late, because as far as the world is concerned, Apple maps are crap.
The problem for Apple is that while its maps will of course improve, it's had a months-long Ratner moment. It's been the butt of late night talk show jokes and magazine front covers, the subject of tumblrs and terrifying news stories.
To Joe and Jane Punter, Google gets you there and Apple gets you lost.
What was intended as a selling point and a screw-you to Google became a reason not to buy, a reason not to upgrade your iOS device - so fans of irony will be amused that the arrival of Google Maps for iOS is actually helping Apple out here. You can come back now! It's safe again!
Apple's data can be fixed, but I'm not sure Maps' reputation can be repaired so easily - at least, not without some exciting, sod-it-we'll-buy-Nokia acquisition or many years of enormous investment. Google is simply years ahead of Apple here.
It looks rather like Apple had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to beat Google, and it blew it: it brought a spoon to a knife fight, a tin sword to a tank battle, a Reliant Robin to a road race, a Budweiser to a beer festival... you get the idea, I'm sure.
In David Simon's superlative The Wire, charismatic gangster Omar Little taunts a rival's henchman: "come at the king, you better not miss." Apple came at the king, but couldn't find his house.