Why Apple can’t deny Google Maps on iPhone

When Google submits its rewritten Google Maps app for iOS, Apple can’t block it

Google has nearly completed work on a new version of Google Maps for the iPhone. Citing sources familiar with Google’s plans, The Wall Street Journal reported that Google is now field testing the app outside of Google. It should soon be ready for Google to submit to Apple for approval.

Apple booted Google Maps from the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch earlier this year with the introduction of iOS 6. Google Maps was a part of iOS from the very first iPhone through September of this year — a partnership that lasted more than five years. But Apple has been divorcing itself from Google’s goods and services ever since the two began battling head-to-head with competing smartphone platforms.

Apple replaced Google Maps with its own mapping product. Embarrassingly for Apple, Apple Maps has been a complete failure. Users immediately complained that the app was inferior to Google Maps. It was (still is?) riddled with mistakes, missing towns, distorted imagery, and other goof-ups. The black eye Apple received for Apple Maps probably played a role in Apple iOS head Scott Forstall’s recent departure from Apple. Apple was forced to apologize for the Apple Maps disaster and has been working hard to fix the software ever since.

What everyone wants to know, of course, is whether or not Apple will approve the new Google Maps. Traditionally, Apple has disliked apps and services that compete with the iPhone’s (or iPad’s) native software and services. For years, it wouldn’t allow competitive apps in the app store. It has relaxed that policy a bit. For example, iPhone users can use alternate email applications (including Google’s Gmail app), alternate browsers (including Google’s Chrome app), and alternate cloud syncing services (including Google’s Drive app).

After the Apple Maps fiasco, Apple understood that it had made a mistake. It recommended that iPad and iPhone users find an alternate mapping application. In fact, the iTunes App Store still has a place reserved on the home page that takes users to a collection of mapping and navigation apps. Some of the apps listed there belong to MapQuest, TomTom, Magellan, TeleNav, Garmin, and even Microsoft. All these companies offer navigation apps that compete with Apple Maps. Some are free and some are not, and many don’t have the deep system-wide integration that Apple Maps does (or that Google Maps did), but they still help iPhone users get from Point A to Point B and show them nearby points of interest.

Considering how Apple has relaxed some of its traditional app policies and is currently recommending competitors’ mapping apps, it would look petulant and hypocritical if it were to deny Google Maps for the iPhone. Apple may not typically concern itself over such things, but this is a major exception. Denying Google Maps at this point would be opposite of everything Apple is already doing. It would be an obvious move against a competitor. It would make Apple look petty and pathetic in the eyes of many.

Apple can’t say no.

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