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Apple’s not the only company having trouble depicting images of Earth in its map application. Google Earth has some pretty shocking photos of the surface of the planet as well, it’s as if Salvador Dali paid a visit to Mountain View and waved his magic brush around.
Google Maps has now been enabled for access from Windows Phone, The Verge announced earlier today following a series of bad press on the discovery that Google was redirecting traffic to Google Maps to Google’s search page when accessed from Windows Phones.
While it’s unclear if people were really looking to use Google Maps instead of the built in Nokia Maps or Bing Maps on Windows Phone devices, or whether it was just a knee-jerk reaction from those who just found out about the redirect, there was an uproar across the tech blogs.
Regardless, we tried using Google Maps on the Lumia 920 and the results can be seen on the video. No, it’s not Internet Explorer’s fault that it doesn’t work properly. The browser handles modern websites just fine.
Google had appeared as a winner after it shipped its own maps app for iPhone near the end of 2012. Many people had bemoaned Apple’s decision to do its own maps app because it had proven to be less than ideal and far from perfect. Unfortunately, in starting 2013, Google decided it doesn’t want Windows Phone owners to use its maps anymore. One day it was accessible from Internet Explorer, the next, it wasn’t. Never mind the fact that Windows Phone 8 has Nokia Maps as the default maps app, some people still prefer to use Google’s maps. One bogus excuse after another, Google finally relented and said that it will return maps access to Windows Phone although it didn’t say when.
Google can say what they want but this was clearly a competitive issue. Google had identified Windows Phone as a credible threat to its dominance of the mobile market and wanted to minimize any possibility of Microsoft becoming a major force in mobile devices as it had on the traditional computer market. Previously Google had pulled sync support for its products on Windows Phone and refuses to allow access for a proper YouTube app. With this latest issue, it can’t be any clearer that it wants to suppress Windows Phone.
Nokia Maps is a legendary piece of software that provides precise and detailed street maps of the cities of the world, included in all Nokia phones and available as Here Maps for Android and iOS, although for some reason Here Maps isn’t as responsive or updated as Nokia Maps is.
In any case, Nokia announced that it will be bringing laser-based 3D representation of cities and other places around the world to deliver an even better experience in using its maps. It also wants to push ahead voice guidance to be more natural and descriptive in its instructions. In other words, rather than say, “turn left in 50 meters”, it would say, “turn left at the park”, which would make it easier for drivers to understand than having to approximate distances.
Nokia launched its HERE Maps app a few days ago on the App Store. While it’s feature packed, many of them aren’t exactly functioning, at least not in Jakarta. Traffic reports for example, is still better on Waze (doesn’t actually show up on HERE), and public transport only covers trains, no buses. While the map is great, roads are all there, and you can save a map to use offline, you’ll be excused thinking that you’re still living in the past.
Thing is, the points of interests listed on HERE reflects a time long gone. Old clubs, buildings, and businesses, long shut down still show up as recommendations. Are they even using the same data points as Nokia maps on Windows Phone? Or perhaps it’s a way for Nokia to get people to switch to Windows Phone so people use the proper Nokia Maps app with the correct data? Or maybe Nokia is still living in the past?
Not for the mobile phone business obviously since the two companies produce very different phones and have different design cultures but Nokia owns one of the largest mapping data in the world and receives updates from delivery companies such as FedEx and UPS to keep its map data current.
These companies drive far more miles than Google does with its Street View cars. Apple is in serious need for a relatively quick fix of its mapping data and for some reason it doesn’t seem to be getting the necessary details from TomTom, OpenStreetMap, and its other partners. Nokia is in such a dire need for some serious cash injection that it is even considering to sell the building that it uses for its headquarters in Espoo and lease it from the new owners. It’s in the interest of both companies to consider this option which they surely must have behind closed doors.
While licensing map data might be an alternative, the baggage that comes with licensing is the exact reason why Apple pursued a mapping solution of its own. Another possibility, remote as it may be, is to acquire the mapping division and license the content back to Nokia and Microsoft.
Onavo, a company that provides a way for smartphone users to compress data through a proxy service, reveals that Apple’s map data on iOS 6 is actually far more efficient than Google’s map data in iOS 5 thanks to the use of vector graphics instead of raster graphics as map images. It compared data usage on the Maps app in iOS 5 vs the one in iOS 6 and discovered that when using the standard map view. iOS 6 consumes up to 80% less data.
On top of that, Apple Maps provides offline data which means that once you’ve looked up a certain area, the map data remains in the app and will still be available next time you look it up. In other words, the new Maps app only downloads the map data once. The Maps app on iOS 5 uses images that are not stored in the app, which means you must have data coverage to load them up each time.
This key difference is what makes the new maps app on iOS 6 far more superior than the old maps. It also removes a lot of unnecessary network load on mobile carrier services, freeing it up for others to use. Onavo says map data used to make up 5% of iPhone data traffic. As for satellite view images, the company found that Apple’s images are around half the size of Google’s. Another point scored for Apple in the technical department. Once Apple fixes the actual map data, the new app would provide a far more superior map-using experience than the previous version in older iOS releases.
Writing for Pando Daily, Farhad Manjoo argues that Google fails to come out as a winner even as Apple’s mapping efforts run aground and pushed Tim Cook to issue an apology and offer alternative solutions from the App Store as well as letting people know about Google and Nokia’s web based maps.
By offering a selection, Apple highlights the fact that there are other mapping solutions that people can use, many of which are customized for particular purposes, which can be better than Google’s product. Apple’s customers will then be split among these alternatives instead of running straight into Google’s expecting arms. With more people adopting different kinds of mapping apps, this will only drive innovation and push Google to improve its map service, and since Apple no longer bundles Google’s mapping service, its usage will significantly diminish.
Manjoo compared this situation to the so called antenna-gate which plagued iPhone 4 and forced then Apple CEO Steve Jobs to address the issue and let customers get a free iPhone bumper. Apple barely lost any sales because of it and Manjoo argues that it will be the same case this time around evidenced by the fact that demand for iPhone 5 is still outstripping supply.
iOS users, have you upgraded to iOS 6? Did you try the new Google-less Maps app? The map display looks much better and better annotated than Google’s maps but is it as useful? Is the data as comprehensive? A lot of the issues seem to stem from the fact that Apple uses multiple data sources that are either outdated or just incomplete. The labeling layers on the map like to appear and disappear without any particular reason or pattern, traffic information is incomplete despite supposedly using data from Waze, and the app keeps failing to locate major landmarks, let alone minor ones. This last point means turn by turn navigation doesn’t always work. Overall, this is a work in progress. This maps app is basically version one and it will need several more months, or perhaps a year before it can be expected to work like Google Maps.