The free Google Maps app is available in more than 40 countries and 29 languages, Google said in a blog posting. Google was widely expected to introduce its own app after the version of Apple’s iOS mobile software released in September excluded its popular built-in tool.
With the mapping episode, consumers have been caught in the middle of a long-brewing rivalry between Apple and Google, two of the world’s largest technology companies, which are competing for dominance in smartphones and tablet computers. Critics have faulted Apple’s map application for being unreliable, helping Google’s new program to shoot to the top of Apple’s App Store rankings today after its release.
“It’s embarrassing for Apple to reuse Google’s map application as it suggests Apple failed to meet market expectations,” said Hwang Min-Seong, a Hong Kong-based analyst at Samsung Securities Co. “This shows how much harder Apple had to push itself to come up with great innovations, only for it to end up as a big mistake.”
Apple shares slipped 1.5 percent to $531.17 at 12:24 p.m. in New York, while Google rose less than 1 percent to $702.92.
Tom Neumayr, a spokesman at Cupertino, California-based Apple, declined to comment.
For its own map program for iOS software, which runs iPhones and iPads, the company added new features such as turn- by-turn navigation and fly-over views of landscapes. The criticism of the application prompted Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook to issue a rare apology to consumers.
“People around the world have been asking for Google Maps on iPhone,” Google said in the blog post. “Starting today, we’re pleased to announce that Google Maps is here.”
Google, maker of the world’s most popular search engine, had provided the mapping tools that had been installed on every Apple tablet and smartphone since the iPhone’s debut in 2007. The companies’ relationship has been tested since Google began providing the Android software platform for free to mobile-phone makers that compete with Apple, such as Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) and HTC Corp. (2498)
Booming demand for Android-based smartphones is helping Google add market share at the expense of other software providers, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said on Dec. 11 in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York.
Android snared 72 percent of the market in the third quarter, while Apple had 14 percent, according to Gartner Inc. Customers are activating more than 1.3 million Android devices a day, Schmidt said.
While Apple’s map program doesn’t appear to have hurt sales of the iPhone 5, Cook said he was “extremely sorry for the frustration” the app caused consumers. “We are doing everything we can to make Maps better,” Cook wrote in a September letter to customers posted on Apple’s website.
Schmidt said on Sept. 25 that Apple should have stuck with Google Maps.
“It would have been better if they had kept ours,” Schmidt said in Tokyo. “What were we going to do, force them not to change their mind? It’s their call.”
Google has been building out its online mapping software since 2005, using cars and satellites to accumulate data that helps improve its accuracy and reliability.
“It’s a net positive for Apple; there were a lot of questions of if or when Google Maps would return to the iPhone,” said Scott Kessler, an analyst at S&P Capital IQ. “It’s good to see that it’s back.”
A team at Apple has been working to fix the mapping mistakes, focusing first on some of the most glaring problems, said one person familiar with the matter. The satellite imagery over the U.K. has been improved, and labels for popular U.S. landmarks such as the Washington Monument have been corrected.
Apple, which also eliminated the pre-installed app for Google’s YouTube video service, built the replacement map program because it wanted to scale back its relationship with Google, two people familiar with Apple’s development of maps said in September. Google then separately released its YouTube app for the iPhone and iPad.
Apple’s bungled introduction of new mapping features contributed to the ouster of mobile-software chief Scott Forstall, whose departure was announced in October. Apple also fired another senior manager in charge of the mapping software.
Apple has been building up its expertise in mapping. In the past few years, the company has acquired small mapping companies including C3 Technologies, Poly9 and Placebase. Apple is licensing location information from other companies such as TomTom NV (TOM2) and OpenStreetMap.
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