Google seems to be bent on declaring war on Windows Phone for some reason recently. After dropping Exchange ActiveSync for its own open-source CalDAV and CardDAV protocols for Google Calendar and Contacts, and refusing to allow Microsoft access to APIs that would allow for a better YouTube experience on Windows Phones, this week Google again fired a shot across Microsoft’s bow by disabling access to Google Maps when using IE Mobile, the browser built into Windows Phones.
What is perhaps most disturbing about this latest maps escapade is that this time Google comes across as almost completely, well, evil in the whole business. To recap, here’s a timeline of what’s occurred in the past few days.
- Google Maps had apparently been working fine with both IE 9 Mobile (WP 7, 7.5) and IE 10 Mobile (WP 8).
- Sometime last week, attempts to browse to Google Maps on Windows Phone were redirected to the Google.com home page.
- When pressed for an explanation, Google said that Google Maps were optimized for Webkit browsers, and therefore wouldn’t work on the (non-webkit) IE.
- Some independent testing revealed that Google had blocked the IE Mobile User Agent string from accessing Google Maps. When that User Agent string was changed (misspelled), Google Maps rendered just fine on IE Mobile.
- Google then released another statement, saying “(r)ecent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect”.
What Google doesn’t say is that no one has been able to identify any recent changes to either IE Mobile, or Google Maps that would have forced the need for a redirect. While there may be legitimate reasons for Google to make life difficult for Windows Phone, this latest barb seems to have only succeeded in making Google look stupid and petty, while making the user experience worse for those who choose to use Windows Phone and Google.
What we’re left with, of course, is evidence of a growing ecosystem war between Google and Microsoft, where users are increasingly being forced to choose between all-or-nothing ecosystems. That such a choice leaves users with an overall poorer experience doesn’t seem to connect with either the Evil Empire in Redmond or the increasingly Evil one in Mountain View.
That Google seems to be the instigator in these most recent exchanges doesn’t let Microsoft off the hook, however. As we said before, it’s up to Microsoft and its fledgling Windows Phone to support CalDAV and CardDav, if that’s what it takes to get the highly popular Gmail working well. They also need to throw money at solve the problem with YouTube on Windows Phone, and that’s up to Microsoft, not Google. It’s less clear what Microsoft needs to do to provide a great Google Maps experience on Windows Phone, but whatever it is, Microsoft is the one to gain by offering any and all major services on its phones, and the onus again is on Microsoft.
For both Google and Microsoft, the best course of action, if they truly care about user needs, is to provide top notch services while allowing access to the competition, and let the best services prevail. We’re a long way from that, from either company.