Apple’s Maps gambit forced Google to offer a better app (with driving directions)
What if Apple had not gone ahead with its Quixotic quest to cut every last tie to Google by pushing out a not-quite-ready Maps app? Would Google have ever felt the pressing need to provide a newer, better Maps app, one with built-in turn-by-turn directions and a restyled interface? Would the new app have looked like Apple’s well-styled Maps app, but with Google data? What other rhetorical questions need to be asked, until you appreciate the odd circumstances that led to a better mobile map experience for everyone’s iPhone?
Public transit directions are a big deal
There are, perhaps, some iPhone owners who have not had any serious problem so far with Apple’s Maps app. One of my friends claims to be just such a person. And there are some who might have already figured out how to get by with MapQuest, Bing Maps, or any other number of Apple Maps alternatives. So what’s the big tech-pundit commotion over “finally” getting an official Maps app?
For one thing, public transit directions are in Google’s app, and they’re pretty great. They know what bus or train or trolley is coming, and when, and where you need to be to catch it. For many people, that’s not a life-saving feature. But were you aware that many writers about high-tech things live in New York and San Francisco? Did you further know that driving in those cities can be compared to a sword fight with an eight-armed cyborg octopus that was programmed by an Olympic-class fencing villain?
And public transit directions are now the big differentiation between Apple’s Maps, which will presumably improve in data and photo quality, and Google’s Maps, which seem more metropolitan and adaptable.
No biking directions yet
Google’s own Maps app on Android offers directions for cyclists. They are labeled as “beta” or a “work in progress,” but they are very helpful for finding smoother rides, public paths, and other helpful byways for cyclists. There are no such directions for bicycles in the iOS Google Maps app. I could only venture to guess that cycling directions required rethinking the design, or that Google was looking for more complete cycling coverage, before offering them on iOS.
It would be odd, otherwise, to think of bicycle directions as the valued differentiator for Google’s own Android platform. Which is what turn-by-turn directions were, until last night.