The health of a platform: thinking about Maps and remembering the days of IE

The Past

Back in the late 90’s (boy that feels like a long time ago), the Mac was in a tough spot. 

Steve came back to the company and delivered the very first iMac. It was priced and packaged just right. The hardware was extremely well designed. Then came the MacBook Pro. Beautiful.

The thing holding these computers back was the browser.

It was clear by then the browser would forever change the desktop computer experience. But the problem was obvious: Mac users had to choose between two poor browsers. Netscape had gotten bloated and slow. And Microsoft was making obsessed with embrace and extend, so Internet Explorer ran like garbage on the Mac — although it ran beautifully on a Windows machine at the time. 

The same was true with Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office ran beautifully on a PC but it’s Mac counterpart was awful. It’s still true today. Just ask anyone who uses Outlook (or remember Entourage) on a Mac. 

Apple’s response: Safari, Mail & Keynote. 

Safari was pretty bad when v1 shipped. But today it’s just as good as Chrome in my experience. And I’m happy that Mac users have a choice in browsers.  And Keynote presentations shine where Powerpoint just stalled out. And every Mac user I know would prefer any mail client over Outlook (remember Entourage!). 

The Present

This past week I picked up two new phones. An iPhone 5 and a Samsung Galaxy III. They are both sweet. Truly amazing. I use both. 

But it’s clear even before using Apple’s own Maps app in iOS 6. Google Maps on Android is vastly superior to Google Maps on iOS 5. It’s truly night and day.

The same is true for Gmail. Google’s mail client on Android is superior to their iOS version. Google Voice on Android is vastly better than Google Voice on iOS. 

Sound familiar? 

I think Apple had no choice but to create their own Maps apps.

Just like the browser in age of the desktop, Maps is a critical app in the age of mobile. The harsh difference of course is that Apple booted Google’s Maps app being built into iOS 6.

Yet I believe being built into the iOS is more of a hindrance than a benefit for Google (e.g. YouTube). Recall built in apps don’t get upgraded until the entire OS gets updated. 

This is the opportunity for Google to change the cycle of history and these platform wars. I’d love to see Google step up and create a kick ass version of Maps for iOS *and* Android. It would take courage and conviction and it would be inspiring.