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Has Apple's Feud With Google Hurt Its iPhone 5?


Apple is suffering through its biggest product embarrassment since in recent memory. The launch of the iPhone 5 has been over-shadowed in the tech press with seemingly endless stories about glitches in Apple's new mapping software.

At the center of all this is Apple's feud with Google, a feud that has many wondering about Apple's famous commitment to the customer experience.

From Silicon Valley, here's NPR's Steve Henn.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Apple's new Maps have been a public relations disaster for the company. There's a Tumblr blog devoted to Apple Map errors, the maps misplaced the Huey P. Long Bridge in New Orleans, they erased Stratford-upon-Avon from the British countryside, and in aerial views of Las Vegas, it appears as if the city may be melting.

Carolina Milenesi tracks mobile gadgets for Gartner. She says the biggest problem with Apple's Maps right now is they are just not always accurate.

CAROLINA MILENESI: So I drove to a dead end in Palo Alto.

HENN: Palo Alto was Steve Jobs' home town.


HENN: If Apple Maps can't find its way around here, it has a problem.

Julie Ask at Forrester Research says mapping and navigation are core part of how most people use their mobile phones.

JULIE ASK: Maps aren't just another application. Maps like email are, you know, one of those utilities or applications on my phone where I actually spend a lot of time.

HENN: Since its launch in 2007, the iPhone's Map app has been powered by Google - Steve Jobs' crowed about it at the iPhone's first unveiling.

STEVE JOBS: And here we are - boom.

HENN: Then he searched for a Starbucks.

JOBS: Starbucks. I'm searching Starbucks and sure enough...


HENN: Five years ago, red pins popping up on a map seemed revolutionary.


HENN: Today not so much.


HENN: Get directions to Philz Coffee.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I didn't find any places matching get directions.

HENN: Google Maps on Android phones have been offering verbal turn by turn directions for years.

Navigate to Philz Coffee.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Head north on Bay Laurel Drive towards Cotton Street.

HENN: But no matter how nicely you asked Apple's Siri: Get directions to Philz Coffee, Google's app on the old iPhone simply didn't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Tap the one you want directions too.

HENN: Instead you had to pick up the phone, touch the screen and try to read little tiny directions. And if I have a cup of hot coffee in my hand and am driving a stick shift, it's a disaster.

Apple's new maps - despite all their flaws - fixed that.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Turn right on to Cornell Road, then turn right onto Harvard Avenue.

HENN: Julie Ask says today, if you want to make a competitive smart phone...

ASK: Controlling the mapping experience is core.

HENN: And Ask says that Apple, depending on Google for such a key feature is kind of crazy.

ASK: Given how focused Apple is on the end user experience, their desire to provide the best experience, you know, lies behind this decision. Even if they didn't hit a home run - so to speak - on the first try.

HENN: Mapping, at least, Google and Android phones are still far out in front. Google maps let you save maps of cities off-line - in your phone. So if you are traveling to say Paris, you can use those maps and GPS to find your way around without getting slammed with huge data roaming charges. Google also offers floor plans of more than 10,000 public buildings.

One day Apple may catch up, but if you're looking for Google Maps on the iPhone, there's no app for that.

Steve Henn NPR News Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Henn is NPR's technology correspondent based in Menlo Park, California, who is currently on assignment with Planet Money. An award winning journalist, he now covers the intersection of technology and modern life - exploring how digital innovations are changing the way we interact with people we love, the institutions we depend on and the world around us. In 2012 he came frighteningly close to crashing one of the first Tesla sedans ever made. He has taken a ride in a self-driving car, and flown a drone around Stanford's campus with a legal expert on privacy and robotics.