Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone 5 is a hit, but it isn't perfect.
The loudest knock on the device -- though it's technically a knock on iOS, 6 so it applies to older Apple devices as well -- is the new mapping feature.
Warped images, barren map details, missing public-transit information, and dodgy directions have made Apple Maps a surprising disaster. The move to boot Google Maps as its default mapping platform now seems like a mistake looking back, though why does the rearview mirror show a wickedly distorted bridge that we never took?
Apple has a problem. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) can fix it. Then again, maybe it's in Google's best interest not to fix it at all.
The power of an updated app
A few years ago, Apple and Google were chummy tech leaders. Google's CEO even sat on Apple's board. However, the growing battle between iOS and Android has changed everything. From smartphones to tablets, Google and Apple are the only two feasible choices on either platform at the moment.
Apple went public with its decision this summer to cut ties with Google's popular YouTube and Google Maps as preloaded native iOS features. Apple doesn't necessarily have an in-house replacement for YouTube, but why should it be promoting Google's world-leading video-sharing website?
In that regard, Google gave Apple a break. It rolled out a spruced-up iOS app for YouTube two weeks ago, and it's a hit. YouTube has been the top App Store download since shortly after its launch. Folks buying the iPhone 5 -- or having upgraded to iOS 6 on earlier iPhones, iPads, or iPod touch devices since Wednesday -- are realizing that there's no longer a YouTube icon on the home screen. A quick App Store visit remedies the displeasure.
The mapping fix isn't as easy. There is no standalone Google Maps application, though it's available as an app option as part of a general Google search app.
What if Google chooses not to cash in on the opportunity by rushing a Google Maps iOS download to Apple's rescue? What if it lets the world's most valuable technology company drown off some unchartered island with Apple Maps?
What if it decides to take down the YouTube app while it's at it? What becomes of Apple then?
Bugs do get fixed
The one thing working in Apple's favor is that improving its new buggy mapping application isn't a hardware issue. This isn't 2010's Antennagate, where Apple needed a hardware update to fix the reception problem with its iPhone 4. Apple can -- and will -- beef up Apple Maps soon.
However, what this really means is that the window of time for Google to exploit this shortcoming is small.
It's time, folks, for attack ads.
Yes, Apple brilliantly tore Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Vista to shreds with the "I'm a Mac -- I'm a PC" ads a few years back. By the time the campaign came to a close, the battle of perception was won by Apple. Paying a premium for Macs and MacBooks made sense. Why can't Google escalate the iOS vs. Android battle with ads showing the woefully distorted Apple mapping blunders? Oh, they're out there. Between now and the time Apple adequately fixes its maps, Google should be milking this flub.
Holding back on updates of its own can always backfire. Microsoft's refusal to make its Office suite of productivity applications available on iOS didn't slow down the iPad from eating into its PC stronghold. Apple fans may find worthy substitutes for Google's video and mapping -- just as developers created workarounds for the lack of Microsoft support -- and Big G would follow Mr. Softy in shedding relevance.
Isn't this still a gamble worth taking if you're Google? Android is already the global standard for mobile operating systems, and scaling back support of iOS would force Apple's hand into justifying the reasons its products are worth a premium.
Your move, Google -- and for heaven's sake, don't map it out on Apple. You'll never get there.
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