For the past few months, my iPhone has seemed incomplete. The fabulous functionality I've become accustomed to over the past few years was missing and tools that I once took for granted on the iPhone now required a trip to my office to check the computer. But alas, Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL ) Maps is back and we can all go on with business as usual.
By now, everyone knows that the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) Maps launch was a complete miss by Apple, but it underscores a larger point for the company. Apple's devices are great and easy to use, but it's the apps that people really want. Take away our Google Maps and you have an uproar, something Apple failed to recognize.
Google's role in Apple
Maps wasn't the only Google app to be pulled from iOS 6 earlier this year. YouTube was also dropped from the system's integrated apps. Apple clearly wanted to push Google from such an important role in its own operating system, in part because Google's Android operating system is its biggest competition. Despite pushing Google from this preferred status, Google is still a staple on Apple's devices and is a top choice of iOS users.
- Google's search engine is integrated into Safari, not only on iOS, but also on Macs.
- Google Maps is now the No. 1 free app on the App Store with YouTube at No. 3, and Google Earth at No. 4. On the iPad, YouTube is No. 1, Gmail is No. 6, and Google Earth is No. 9.
Apple can't simply push Google to the side -- and it shouldn't. Google provides important tools that millions of people use on Apple's devices every day. Apple needs Google -- probably more than Google needs Apple.
The big question
Here's the question I've been pondering as someone who uses all things Apple. Would you still buy Apple devices if none of Google's apps were available on iOS?
It's not as easy a question as you might think. The difference between Apple Maps and Google Maps is enormous. Accessing YouTube is a pain on a mobile web browser versus the apps. Plus, I probably use Google search on my iOS devices more than any other function. If Google weren't available at all on my Apple devices, I could make the switch tomorrow.
As Apple expands into new markets and companies like Google and Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) grow, the challenge will only get worse. If you think missing Google would be bad, can you imagine Apple selling iPhones without Facebook? Let's hope they never get into the same kind of tiff Apple and Google are currently in.
It's time to play nice
Google has its fingers in so many things we use today that crossover is bound to happen between the two companies. But after Maps, I hope Apple has learned just how important big partners like Google are, even if it's a strained partnership.
Facebook will probably pose similar challenges in the future as it expands its reach. This is another company Apple will need to be partners with.
If you don't think apps matter to Apple, just ask Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) how Surface sales are going without a large app store. The same could be said for Research In Motion's (NASDAQ: BBRY ) tablets or Barnes & Noble's (NYSE: BKS ) Nook. It's not the 250,000th app that matters to consumers, it's the big ones, and without those, a device maker loses its advantage -- no matter how cool the device is.
Advantage of open source
Maybe we're seeing a key advantage to Google's open-source platform. Google has less incentive to care about who is selling more devices or which operating system people are using. Its stated goal is to get more people on the web, and by extension, more people using search. This inherently has less conflicts than Apple's model, which requires key partners who aren't always the best of friends.
Still a top stock?
None of this means that Apple isn't a great stock, only that it needs to find ways to appease companies like Google, which are vitally important to its success.
There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever, and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded with over 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and more importantly, your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.