Reports Thursday that Google's Motorola Mobility faked an advertisement comparing Google Maps to Apple's Maps app in an effort to artificially embarrass Cupertino’s new service are only partially correct. An examination of the issue shows that, while Motorola may have configured the comparison to act in its favor, the advertisement was a valid comparison, for marketing purposes at least, between the competing mapping services.
During the fanfare surrounding the iPhone 5 launch last Friday, Motorola Mobility decided to take a shot at deflating Apple’s media enthusiasm by publishing an ad for its Droid RAZR M smartphone that pointed out the widely reported flaws in Apple’s Maps app.
The ad used an address in Manhattan, 315 East 15th Street, and demonstrated how Google Maps running on the RAZR M found the address while Apple's Maps app did not.
On Thursday, AppleInsider published a report, claiming that Motorola had “faked” the contest by using an address that does not exist. 315 East 15th Street, the tech site pointed out, sits at the intersection of East 15th and Nathan D Perlman Place, on the corner of Stuyvesant Square.
The claim that 315 East 15th street doesn’t exist is incorrect. It’s true that the address does not have a building associated with it, but it is a legitimate, verifiable address that points to a specific location on East 15th Street. In addition to Google Maps, maps from competing services such as Bing and Yahoo, and the official New York City online map all list it as a real address.
One part of the problem is the way that Motorola performed the test. In the ad, the search phrase “315 e 15th st ny” was used in both Apple Maps and Google Maps. It was this formatting that caused the inconsistency, but it is also this type of formatting that many users will enter when quickly searching for an address.
If a user searches for “315 E 15th St, Manhattan” the correct location will be displayed by Apple, but “315 E 15th St, New York, NY” still returns the incorrect result as of the time of this editorial.
315 East 15th Street, as shown by the Official New York City online map.
There are three points that must be made about this situation. First, Google (Motorola) did not “fake” the test by using a nonexistent address. The address might not lead to a home or building, but it points to a specific location in Manhattan that a user may wish to reference or locate.
Second, Google (Motorola) did intentionally use an esoteric address to make a point in its marketing campaign. That is neither new, surprising, nor exclusive to Google. Apple throughout its history has also picked specific topics or angles to discuss in its advertising campaigns that emphasize the company’s strengths and amplify the weaknesses, however specific, of its competitors.
For example, Apple's recent advertisements for its Siri personal assistant only highlight queries to which Siri has a correct and relevant response. Apple obviously does not illustrate Siri telling a user that she did not understand the query, something that almost every Siri user has experienced many times.
Similarly, Apple’s “Get a Mac” ads, which usually correctly pointed out the advantages of Macs and OS X over Windows, often made murky claims, such as this one from 2007, which states that users upgrading to Windows Vista won’t be able to use their existing software and peripherals. While this was true for some Windows users running certain applications, it was certainly not a universal claim. Nor did Apple’s ad mention the numerous times that operating system and hardware changes have forced Mac users to abandon existing software and peripherals, such as the transitions from OS 9 to OS X, PowerPC to Intel, or frequent OS updates, such as Lion, that broke many legacy software titles and drivers.
Third, Apple Maps deserves criticism. It was recently revealed that Apple’s contract with Google was not yet up for renewal and that the company did not have to release its Maps product in its current state. Alternatively, Apple could have released Maps as a separate application and continued to offer Google Maps in iOS 6.
I defended Maps upon its release based on the fact that the service will improve over time and that it offers some excellent new features. I still stand by that belief, but that does not mean that those concerned, frustrated, or otherwise critical of Apple Maps should have their claims dismissed by Apple-focused bloggers and journalists.
Apple’s Maps has a bright future, but in its current state it is often a terrible experience for many users, including myself. Google Maps, in its iOS 5 form, was a better and more accurate solution for directions, locating points of interest, and familiarizing oneself with a new area. If Apple’s competitors want to put that fact under the spotlight, then so be it. If anything, it will only push Apple harder to correct its own application’s shortcomings.