The recent releases of Apple's (Nasdaq:AAPL) much-hyped iPhone 5 and its IOS 6 operating system may have represented the biggest "I told you so" moment in Google's (Nasdaq:GOOG) strained relationship with Apple. As part of the IOS6 operating system, Apple replaced the old map app powered by Google map data with its own app that relied on data collected and compiled by Apple. This was reportedly a five-year project that Apple marketed as one of the most exciting and innovative features in its new IOS. Still, the IOS6 official website displays the maps app prominently at the top of the page, while other features receive far less space.
When IOS6 launched, criticism poured in almost immediately. Mistakes ranged from landmarks being mislabeled to the now-infamous melting Las Vegas. Can Google claim victory from Apple's misstep or is the problem a distant memory in the minds of tech junkies who tend to have a short memory when it comes to the sins of Apple?
Apple and Google have a dysfunctional relationship. Eric Schmidt, previously the CEO of Google and now Executive chairman, sat on Apple's board until resigning in 2009. In the early years of the iPhone, Forbes reports that Apple was committed to providing the best user experience, regardless of the company behind it.
Google was the leader in maps so Steve Jobs felt that it made sense to include Google Maps as the native app. Jobs also knew that building the maps app would take a lot of time and resources. It was a project he wasn't interested in taking on, especially since the relationship between Apple and Google was friendly at the time.
As years went by, Google continued to improve their maps, thanks in part to the many iPhone users. As Google found more success in the mobile handset market, the relationship between Apple and Google deteriorated. It wasn't until much later, not long before his death, that Jobs ordered the creation of a native app to replace the Google maps app.
Apple learned what Google knew from years of experience: building a native maps app takes a lot of time and money. Google employs more than 7,000 people to continue development of their maps, but Apple tried to do it with a fraction of the resources and in significantly less time. The result was an app that CEO Tim Cook would later apologize for and that he admitted was not up to Apple's usual standards.
According to map experts, fixing the problems with the new app won't be easy. Apple believes that as more people use the app, user feedback will fix most of the issues. This, according to experts, won't solve the problem. The only way to fix the problems is to do what rival Google has done for years: invest in fleets of mapping vehicles and embark on the long process of driving down every street and road. Even as the app improves, it will likely be a long time before Apple's mapping data will hold the same reputation for quality as Google.
Who Will Win
Soon after the release of the app, Apple's CEO apologized for the quality of the app and even conceded victory to Google by recommending that Apple faithfuls use other apps, including the Google Maps mobile site. This seemed to be a clear victory for Google, but this announcement was far from the nail in the coffin of Tim Cook. Instead, the criticism largely stopped.
A recent study released by ChangeWaves Research concluded that Apple users found the maps issue to be minor. Only 10% reported having difficulties with the app and of those people, most reported that the shortcomings were not bothersome to them. What seemed like a clear victory for Google isn't turning out to be the slam-dunk that they anticipated it to be. According to recent data, Google's operating system is on 52% of all smartphones compared to Apple's 33%, but Apple is quickly closing the gap. Will the iPhone 5 continue to take market share? That won't be clear anytime soon.
The Bottom Line
According to some analysts, Apple has bigger problems than its maps. The iPhone 5 is still in short supply and a recent study found that most smartphone users were happy with their current phones, prompting only 32% of those surveyed to say that they would likely purchase an iPhone 5 in the future.
Google is still the clear winner in the maps market, but that may be of less concern to Apple than it is to the multitudes of tech bloggers and analysts who wrote about the first major signs of weakness since the passing of Steve Jobs. What was a PR nightmare for Apple has turned into a minor issue. Google's "I told you so" moment was short-lived.
At the time of writing, Tim Parker did not own any shares in any company mentioned in this article.