After causing quite a kerfuffle the other day by effectively blocking some Windows Phone users from accessing Google Maps in-browser, Google has released a statement (obtained by The Next Web) clarifying its rationale and promising that it would soon fix the issue.
“IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality,” the statement reads. “As a result, we chose to continue to redirect IE mobile users to Google.com where they could at least make local searches. The Firefox mobile browser did offer a somewhat better user experience and that’s why there is no redirect for those users.”
Here’s a quick primer on the situation in case you’re not familiar with it: late yesterday, Windows Phone users discovered that they could no longer access Google Maps from within the preloaded Internet Explorer browser – they’d be redirected to the Google homepage instead. When the expletive hit the fan shortly afterward, Google issued an official statement that, no, it never officially supported in-browser Google Maps on the Windows Phone platform, blaming the “fact” that IE doesn’t lean on the WebKit layout engine. It wasn’t long at all before people figured out that wasn’t exactly the whole story. Google was only redirecting users whose browser user-agent strings betrayed them as Windows Phone owners.
So long story short, the experience for Windows Phone users really sucked, and they didn’t want people using it. Fair enough, I suppose. I get not wanting people to draw inaccurate conclusions about Google Maps because it doesn’t yet play nice with a particular platform. But to say that Google handled this whole situation poorly is a bit of an understatement. Walling off a service like Maps to an entire class of device owners was bad form, even if it wasn’t the vindictive, anti-competitive move some people first thought it was.
Really Google, could you not have just told Windows Phone users that when they tried to access Google Maps? Was a blind redirect really the best you guys could come up with? Granted, Microsoft’s mobile OS hasn’t exactly picked up the sort of traction that makes every developer swoon yet, but surely there must have been another way.
It really seems like Google just took the path of least resistance here. After all, there’s a decent enough Maps app baked into every Windows Phone, and Google clearly didn’t expect the likely small subset of users who leaned on Google Maps to get too ticked when access to a sub-standard experience was revoked. I can’t help but think that it was foolish of Google to underestimate the ire of spurned geeks, but with any luck, Google will think long and hard before it does something as short-sighted as this again.