The tech blogosphere (CNET included) went into a mild panic today over a report in the Guardian saying that a native Google Maps app for iOS would "struggle for Apple approval."
"Sources at Google familiar with its mapping plans say they are 'not optimistic' that Apple will ever approve a dedicated Google Maps iOS app," says the story by Michael Grothaus, a former Apple consultant. "Though the app is reportedly in development and should be ready to ship by the end of the year, the sources say their plans are only proceeding in 'the unlikely event' that Apple will choose to approve the app."
Well, here's some good news for everyone -- the Guardian's sources are almost certainly wrong.
At the very least, their concerns are overstated. Because you know who else is worried Apple might not approve their app? Every developer who has ever published to the App Store. It's a function of Apple's opaque, ever-changing standards for what qualifies for App Store hosting. A developer can sell an app for years only to find it yanked from the store over some sudden change -- it happens all the time. And so it's not at all unusual that a few employees among the many thousands who work at Google fear rejection from Apple. Fearing rejection from Apple is the default emotional state of developing for Apple devices.
But this is no ordinary app, the Guardian tells us. There are competitive issues at play here. Global software platform geopolitics. Apple's own Maps product was met with derision around the world; it is simply too proud to let a superior product into its store. "No matter how bad Apple's Maps are, the company still wants its users to move on from Google -- and forget about them," the Guardian says. "This doesn't bode well for the approval of an official Google Maps app, the source says."
Alas, this view omits the most relevant thing Apple has said about Google Maps in the wake of its Maps fiasco -- namely, that people should use Google Maps. In his open letter to iOS 6 users, Apple CEO Tim Cook went out of his way to recommend competitors.
"While we're improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest, and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their Web sites and creating an icon on your home screen to their Web app," he wrote.
If Cook is truly intent on getting users to "move on from Google -- and forget about them," this seems to be a rather ineffective way of going about it.
The story's other piece of evidence is that two obscure apps weren't selected to be in Apple's roundup of map alternatives in the App Store. Not that these apps were rejected from the App Store, mind you. Just that they weren't included in a roundup, possibly because they used Google Maps APIs.
Now, we are not above ascribing dark motives to Apple when it comes to App Store curation. When Apple removed Google's YouTube as a preinstalled app and failed to include it in a prominent App Store section about video apps, it was hard to resist the assumption that the move was intentional. Neither company would comment for the record. But it's telling what happened afterward: in the wake of our story the companies exchanged e-mails on the subject, I am told, and eventually YouTube popped up in the video section after all.
Totally unaddressed in the Guardian's story is the public outcry that would result from the Google Maps app being rejected. During the long period in which the Google Voice app was not available in the App Store, Apple faced regular criticism. The Federal Communications Commission wound up launching an inquiry into the subject. Amid much scrutiny, Apple relented -- and no Google-developed app has faced a significant approval delay since. Given the enormous attention the mapping issue has received, Apple could not reject Google Maps without inviting a media circus, public disdain and (likely) Congressional hearings.
The Guardian hedges its story as best as possible, noting that Google and Apple are in constant communication and that "policies and agreements can change quickly." But before we start wringing our hands about Apple's darkly anti-competitive practices, let's remember which company published an open letter recommending its competitors to the masses.