Let's get something out of the way real quick: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) Maps is a mess. It's a fact. Still, that doesn't mean investors shouldn't love Apple's relatively fumbled move from Mac maker to map maker. Here's why.
It's been a total of three months since Apple released iOS 6 and its Maps app, removing Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Maps as the default native app. Scandalous headlines aside, the most important thing was whether or not the service's shortfalls would actually impact unit sales.
Name your gate
Even the infamous "Antennagate" scandal with the iPhone 4 in 2010 didn't dissuade buyers, despite the fact that the technical oversight had much wider usage implications in the form of dropped calls and lost data signals.
Last quarter's iPhone unit sales actually came in slightly better than expected, while the iPad was a little shy. iOS 6 was launched on Sept. 19, just before the quarter closed. A month later, Chitika Insights pegged iOS 6 adoption at 60%, showing that Apple Maps wasn't enough of a disincentive for the majority of users to update their iPhones. Even after Google Maps was re-released on iOS, iOS 6 adoption only ticked up by about 0.2%, more evidence that Google Maps isn't a swaying factor, despite the controversy.
The iPhone 5 sold 5 million units during its domestic launch weekend, and another 2 million last weekend when it landed in China. It's also been heavily constrained with demand outstripping supply, only recently approaching balance. By all accounts, "Mapgate" is not stopping people from buying iPhones.
The best iPhone we've ever made
The decision to ditch Google in the first place reportedly centered around Apple wanting to add certain key features, such as turn-by-turn navigation, among others. Big G didn't want to give up its valuable data for nothing, but the pair couldn't come to agreeable terms.
The only reason why there was so much political negotiating involved in the first place was because of the historically ambiguous nature of iOS Maps branding. Ever since the original iPhone in 2007, Apple had made the app interface, but the backend data had always been provided by Google. Because of that arrangement, ownership of the user and experience was always somewhere between Cupertino and Mountain View. Apple wanted to add features to its native app, but needed Google to agree to provide the data.
Now, the distinction and ownership of the apps are abundantly clear. Apple has its Maps; Google has its Maps. Since Google Maps is now a third-party app like any other, and it's clearly a Google offering, the search giant will add in all sorts of features -- including turn-by-turn navigation -- of its own accord. Google even acknowledged that Google Maps for iOS is better than it is for Android right now, although it will work to bring the two to parity soon.
The point is that after enduring Apple Maps for just three months, iPhone users now have both Apple Maps and Google Maps to choose from, which combined are immensely superior to the single Apple/Google Maps in iOS 5. Apple likes to use superlatives in its product marketing materials, but it's no exaggeration to say that the current mapping services are the best ever offered on the iPhone.
It gets better
This certainly wasn't Apple's intended result. Apple would naturally have preferred its Maps to be a blowout success and that its hundreds of millions of dollars and years spent would have been for good cause, but that's now beside the point.
The net effect is that consumers now have even more reason to buy iPhones (not that Maps was holding them back before). In the end, the iPhone just got a lot better, and investors should love that.