Report: Despite problems, Apple Maps wrested iPhone users from Google

When it comes to the great maps debacle of 2012, Apple might have gotten the last laugh.

You likely remember the pillorying the iPhone maker took when it removed Google Maps as the default navigation program in its iOS software and replaced it with its own, internally built app. Users immediately complained of warped pictures, bad directions and inaccurate data, with landmarks being placed in the wrong locations or completely missing. Things were so bad that CEO Tim Cook issued an apology to Apple’s customers, a rarity for the company.

One might think after all that bad press — and the complaints about the app that continued to come in long after it was launched — that Apple’s maps program would have been a complete flop. The reality is quite different, though.

Citing data from ComScore, the Guardian reported Monday that the vast majority of iPhone owners in the United States who use a maps app use Apple’s. Meanwhile, the portion who use Google’s Maps application plunged after Apple made the switch and now stands at a small fraction of what it was before. Indeed the total number of iPhone and Android smartphone owners who use Google Maps has fallen considerably since Apple switched to its own app, despite the fact that the total number of smartphones in use has increased.

“Google has lost access to a very, very important data channel in the North American market,” Ben Wood, a mobile analyst for research firm CCS Insight, told the Guardian.

The raw numbers are pretty stark. In September 2012, right before Apple released iOS 6, which included its new Maps app, Google Maps had 81 million U.S. users on the iPhone or Android smartphones. By December 2012 — right after the released of iOS 6, but amid the worst of the problems, the number had already fallen to 74.4 million.

It’s continued to drop since. In September this year, Google Maps had just 58.7 million mobile users in the United States. According to an estimate by the Guardian, just 6 million of those are on the iPhone.

Meanwhile, Apple Maps has grown from 0 users on the iPhone in the United States in September last year to 35 million in September this year. That’s out of just 43.2 million monthly users of any maps application on the iPhone, according to the Guardian’s estimates.

As the Guardian notes, there are likely good reasons to explain the fall-off in the number iPhone owners using Google Maps. Apple Maps is now the default mapping application on the iPhone and other iOS devices. That means that generally when a user clicks on an address in an email or asks Siri for directions, the device will launch Apple Maps, no matter what other mapping applications you may have on it.

Apple doesn’t allow users to change the default applications on the iPhone, so even if they might prefer Google Maps, they can’t designate it to be the application that automatically launches to give directions. That makes it much less convenient to use Google’s mapping application — or any other navigation app.

Photo by Troy Wolverton.

Troy Wolverton Troy Wolverton (265 Posts)

Troy writes the Tech Files column as the Personal Technology Columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. He also covers the digital media, mobile and video game industries and writes occasionally about Apple, chips, social networking and other aspects of technology. Previously, Troy covered Apple and the consumer electronics industry. Prior to joining the Mercury News, Troy reported on technology, business and financial issues for TheStreet.com and CNET News.com.