John Paczkowski

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Apple-Google Maps Talks Crashed Over Voice-Guided Directions

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt says Apple should have continued to use Google’s mapping application in iOS 6 instead of swapping it out for its poorly received home-brewed replacement, and given the sour reception Apple’s Maps app has been given, he may have been right.

But multiple sources familiar with Apple’s thinking say the company felt it had no choice but to replace Google Maps with its own, because of a disagreement over a key feature: Voice-guided turn-by-turn driving directions.

Spoken turn-by-turn navigation has been a free service offered through Google’s Android mobile OS for a few years now. But it was never part of the deal that brought Google’s Maps to iOS. And sources say Apple very much wanted it to be. Requiring iPhone users to look directly at handsets for directions and manually move through each step — while Android users enjoyed native voice-guided instructions — put Apple at a clear disadvantage in the mobile space. And having chosen Google as its original mapping partner, the iPhone maker was now in a position where an archrival was calling the shots on functionality important to the iOS maps feature set.

And this caused Apple — which typically enjoys very tight control over its products — no end of philosophical discomfort, sources say. Apple pushed Google hard to provide the data it needed to bring voice-guided navigation to iOS. But according to people familiar with Google’s thinking, the search giant, which had invested massive sums in creating that data and views it as a key feature of Android, wasn’t willing to simply hand it over to a competing platform.

And if there were terms under which it might have agreed to do so, Apple wasn’t offering them. Sources tell AllThingsD that Google, for example, wanted more say in the iOS maps feature set. It wasn’t happy simply providing back-end data. It asked for in-app branding. Apple declined. It suggested adding Google Latitude. Again, Apple declined. And these became major points of contention between the two companies, whose relationship was already deteriorating for a variety of other reasons, including Apple’s concern that Google was gathering too much user data from the app.

“There were a number of issues inflaming negotiations, but voice navigation was the biggest,” one source familiar with Apple and Google’s negotiations told AllThingsD. “Ultimately, it was a deal-breaker.”

At that point, Apple, which had already begun quietly acquiring mapping companies, fast-tracked development of an in-house maps app with voice-guided navigation, with an eye toward making it a tentpole feature of iOS 6. And when Apple realized that it would indeed reach that goal, sources say, it decided to dump Google Maps entirely — even though there was significant time left on its contract with the search giant, as first reported by The Verge. It announced Maps at WWDC in June to the surprise of some, but not to Google, which was well aware the deal was sticks and rags at this point. Then Apple officially launched the app with iOS 6 in September, and now it’s paying the price for what some insiders say was a necessary move made a bit too hastily.

“Apple knew it had a lot of catching up to do in maps,” a person briefed on Apple’s strategy told AllThingsD. “But, given what’s happened the past few days, I think they felt they were farther along than they actually are.”

Hence the current PR debacle from which the company continues to suffer. But Apple is not the only company to be bruised by this rough transition. Gloat as it may over Apple’s mapping missteps, Google suffered a blow when Apple ended the pair’s deal. And it is indeed scrambling to roll out a standalone mapping application for iOS. Google Maps were used by a large portion of iPhone owners, especially in the U.S. And to abruptly lose that user base, particularly one on a rival mobile platform, is a blow. As one geolocation executive observed, “A hundred million devices upgraded is a big body drop” for Google.

Apple declined to comment on the thinking that led to Google’s ouster from Apple Maps. Google did the same thing, though it did take the opportunity to tout its own mapping service: “We believe Google Maps are the most comprehensive, accurate and easy-to-use maps in the world. Our goal is to make Google Maps available to everyone who wants to use it, regardless of device, browser, or operating system.”

Liz Gannes contributed to this report

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus