Google Maps Out the Obvious

This just in: users just plain don't likeApple's (NAS: AAPL) new Maps app. The service's flaws are everywhere, and many users aren't too keen on Apple's broad plan to ditch Google (NAS: GOOG) Maps since that transition entails a fair amount of short-term inconveniences.

Apple is now scrambling to beef up the service, even reportedly now hiring ex-Google Maps engineers to help get it up to par, but Google still has a first-mover advantage over its rival from Cupertino. Google also has over 7,000 people, including both full-time employees and contractors, working on its Maps offering. Apple has a long way to go before it even hopes to catch up here.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt pointed out the obvious, saying, " In my opinion it would have been better [for Apple] to retain our maps." Schmidt was speaking in Japan at the launch of Big G's Nexus 7 tablet in the country, and fielded some questions related to the high-profile switcheroo.

Schmidt, who used to sit on Apple's board, highlighted the importance of Apple as an Internet search partner, since iDevices default to Google's search engine, despite the escalating competition between them.

Some users have been hoping that the search giant would come to their rescue with a third-party Google Maps app available to download through Apple's App Store, much like when it released an updated YouTube app after the aged first-party native version was axed. Schmidt simply said, "We've not done anything yet," but both companies are in daily contact regarding a variety of issues.

Decisions, decisions
As always, Apple has the final say over what does or doesn't pass through the gates of its walled-garden App Store, and its policies have been criticized in the past. In theory, Apple could choose to block a Google Maps app once submitted for any number of reasons. However, this could draw antitrust scrutiny since such a move could be construed as anti-competitive. The App Store has drawn regulatory attention before, such as early last year when the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission questioned its digital subscription rules.

In the past, Apple has denied access to apps that "mimic the core functionality" of iOS -- like third-party browsers, email clients, or even Google Voice years ago -- but has since loosened that policy, and now there is no shortage of competing apps. The browser-based Google Maps web app would always be accessible, but that experience can't compare to a native app.

On the other hand, the last thing Apple wants is to clear a revamped Google Maps app for takeoff and have users flock en masse back to the search giant's comforting arms before its own app has a chance to improve. Especially after spending hundreds of millions -- if not over a billion -- of dollars over the past several years in map-related acquisitions and development costs in order to erect the service.

Apple will have a tough time balancing its longer-term corporate strategy with providing the services that users want (even if those are Google's services) while risking backlash from any major missteps.

Kick 'em while they're down
Plenty of Apple's rivals are now taking the chance to knock on Apple's mapping misfortunes. Google's Motorola subsidiary has released an ad for its new Droid RAZR M, labeling the iPhone 5 as "iLost." Nokia (NYS: NOK) took to its official company blog to tout its own Navteq offerings, comparing its service to both Google's and Apple's on a number of metrics. (NAS: AMZN) has also reportedly tapped Nokia's mapping services for some yet-unknown reason, even after it recently acquired 3-D mapping start-up UpNext, so the e-tail giant will be stepping into the mapping ring in some form or fashion within the foreseeable future.

This has been one of the more glaring iBlunders in recent memory, so rivals are bound to jump with joy at the opportunity to call out a mistake by the almighty Apple. There's little doubt that Apple's service would improve immensely over time, but consumers might not give it a chance.

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Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple,, and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend, Apple, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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