Google and the Future of Maps on the iPhone

According to recent press reports, Apple may replace the Google Maps app on the iPhone with their own in-house Maps app. While this came as a surprise to me (Google Maps was one of the earliest apps on the iPhone and one of my most used apps), I’m eager to see how Apple can improve from the Google product. 

Recently, I noticed a use case for which I was annoyed with Google Maps, and this could be taken as an example of a room for improvement for any competing product. 

I was on the Caltrain going from Sunnyvale to San Mateo to meet a friend for dinner. Along the ride, I was curious to see how much distance (and time) remained ahead in my journey. So I pulled out my trusty iPhone, went to Google Maps, and searched for San Mateo, CA. What I wanted to do was to find the city and have the app calculate the distance (and time) remaining from my current location. My expectation was for the app to find the city and to serve up the city as a pin for me to touch and then go to the next level of calls to action. Google Maps found the city for me, but instead of serving up the city pin as the main call to action, I was shown the following: 

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As can be seen in the image above, the primary pin shown to me was a sponsored result of a dentist near San Mateo. I had to manually touch the San Mateo city pin in order to toggle from the sponsored result to the desired result:  

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This example reminded me of Google’s famous motto, “Don’t Be Evil.” This motto means many different things to many different people. To me, it means that it is possible to make a business viable product while not drastically sacrificing the user experience for the purpose of generating revenue. Google Search (especially its earliest incarnations) was a great example of an extremely profitable product that kept a great balance with user experience. With the example above, I feel that for this product, Google crossed the line and sacrificed user experience a little too much in order to generate revenue.