Maps app loses its way, thanks to Apple-Google clash

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The latest casualty of Apple Inc.'s war with Google Inc. in the mobile-phone market is one of the most widely used features of the iPhone: maps.

Apple, which is touting the map features as a key software change in the iPhone 5 that goes on sale today, built its navigation application amid a growing battle with Google, which had provided its Google Maps program since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. Apple built the replacement app because it wanted to scale back its relationship with Google, not because of any product flaws, said two people familiar with Apple's development of the mapping features.

The company's rivalry with Google was born after the owner of the world's largest Internet search engine developed the Android mobile operating system, which runs devices from manufacturers such as Samsung Electronics Co. and HTC Corp. that compete with Apple's iPhone. Android is now the world's most popular smartphone software.

As the competition escalated, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt exited Apple's board in 2009. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple also traded patent-infringement lawsuits with several smartphone manufacturers who use Android, including Samsung.

The new iPhone 5 mapping software was criticized by technology gadget reviewers, who said it doesn't provide directions for public transportation and sometimes gets confused.

"Apple believes that they can deliver a better experience for customers than Google," said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. "But in the short term, Google has a better mapping application, and iPhone customers will suffer."

The fallout from the feud extends beyond mapping. Customers also won't find Google's YouTube application preinstalled on the iPhone for the first time since 2007. Google's e-mail and document software also haven't worked as well for iPhone customers as on Android phones, Ms. Rotman Epps said. iPhone users can still download a YouTube app from the App Store.

From a business perspective, Apple's decision on mapping is important because its software ecosystem for providing music, apps and other services to customers helps to differentiate its products, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner Inc.

"It doesn't make sense for Apple to outsource a key part of their entire ecosystem to Google," Mr. Gartenberg said.

The reviews for the iPhone 5 were mostly positive, especially for its faster data speeds and lightweight body design. Walt Mossberg, the technology critic for the Wall Street Journal, called it the best smartphone on the market, while singling out the maps as a shortcoming.

"The biggest drawback I found is the new Maps app," wrote Mr. Mossberg. Bloomberg's Rich Jaroslovsky also criticized the mapping features.

Not all reviewers were disappointed by the new mapping software. Ed Baig of USA Today didn't note any flaws with the feature, and Macworld called it "stunning."

Trudy Muller, a spokeswoman for Apple, declined to comment, as did Nate Tyler, a spokesman for Google.

Customers haven't shown any hesitation about adopting Apple's new technology. Apple received more than 2 million orders for the iPhone 5 in 24 hours, more than double the previous record set with the iPhone 4S last year.

The new mapping software began reaching owners of older iPhone models as part an update to Apple's iOS mobile operating system. Those users will lose the Google Maps app that came with earlier versions of iOS.

'"Mapping is probably the biggest weakness of iOS 6, but it's still a relatively minor weakness," Mr. Gartenberg said. "Two million customers have already said it's not an issue."

Google hasn't said whether it plans to introduce a map application that would be downloadable from Apple's App Store, though the company said in a statement that its "goal is to make Google Maps available to everyone who wants to use it, regardless of device, regardless of operating system." Its maps are still available through iPhone users' mobile Web browsers.

Under the companies' arrangement starting with the first iPhone, Google provided Apple with mapping technology in exchange for data on the location of cell towers, Wi-Fi hotspots and where people were traveling, according to people with knowledge of the relationship. Google used this data to make more accurate maps -- by determining if a street is one-way, for example.

With its new effort to replace Google, Apple is using data provided by TomTom NV and OpenStreetMap. For the first time, Apple's new mapping application features audio turn-by-turn navigation. Google, for its part, never let Apple include the turn-by-turn navigation feature in the version of Google Maps used on the iPhone. As more people use the app, Apple will accumulate data that will help it improve.

While Apple is encouraging developers to build software to provide public transportation directions, Google has said it has data for more than 1 million public transportation points worldwide in almost 500 cities. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company this week unveiled its own new mapping features for smartphones using its Android operating system.

"It's a really hard question of how do you create great software on everyone's devices but reserve the best experience for your own," Ms. Rotman Epps said.

This isn't the first time Apple has faced criticism during the introduction of a new iPhone. The first model was assailed for dropped calls, and the iPhone 4 had a faulty antenna. Last year's iPhone 4S had battery-life issues. In each instance, customers seemed to disregard the troubles, and the iPhone has become the world's top-selling line of smartphones.

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