You probably remember the Apple Maps memes that exploded across the Internet when the app was first released as part of iOS6 in September 2012. They were legion: Columbus discovered America because he was looking for India on Apple Maps. Luke Skywalker turned off his targeting computer while attacking the Death Star because it was using Apple Maps. Heard who the Apple Maps development team was? The cast of Lost.
Well, now it looks like Apple is having the last laugh. The Google Maps mobile apps, on both iOS and Android, were used by 81 million people in September 2012. By September 2013, according to ComScore, that number had fallen to 58.7 million. In just one year, Apple Maps has gained 35 million regular users.
The numbers are worse if you look at the iPhone alone, where the aforementioned 35 million Apple Maps users stack up against just 6 million Google Maps users. And a third of those are using the Google Maps app because they haven't or can't upgrade to iOS 6 or 7, according to an analysis by The Guardian.
Yes, you read that right: Apple Maps, for all its history of glitches, errors, broken freeways and missing transit directions, is being used about six times more than Google Maps wherever users have a choice between the two.
ComScore's numbers may seem hard to reconcile with the fact that the Google Maps app was downloaded more than 10 million times when it made its triumphant return to the App store at the end of 2012. But it seems millions of those downloads are sitting idle somewhere far from iPhone users' home screens.
No doubt a big chunk of that Apple Maps usage is down to the fact that iOS pushes you towards Apple Maps every chance it gets. Anywhere you ask Siri to take you, you'll be directed within Apple Maps. If you use Yelp, you're an Apple Maps user by default. Unless you'd like to select that restaurant's address, copy it, open Google Maps and paste it? Didn't think so.
At the same time, Apple Maps got a major overhaul in iOS 7. It's a lot cleaner, simpler, and does a few smart things that Google Maps doesn't, such as automatically darkening the screen for nighttime driving directions. Personally, I like the fact that Apple Maps shows the time you'll arrive by default (it's a couple of extra taps on Google Maps); I've also been a little irked that Google seems to keep changing the route on me, even when I've specifically and deliberately selected the slowest (and most scenic) of three route options.
For Google Maps, however, the news is likely to get worse. Mavericks, the latest upgrade to Mac OS X, features Apple Maps on the desktop for the first time. Apple has added a feature that lets you send an address or directions directly to your iPhone, much as Google Maps does with Android phones. Apple has also bought Embark and HopStop, makers of transit apps. That should address — hopefully soon — one of the biggest problems with the app for millions of straphangers.
The lesson here is that you can't ever predict the failure of a product from how much the tech cognoscenti are joking about it. (After all, they all laughed at Twitter, which was just a place to post about what you had for breakfast, and the iPad, which was simply a large iPhone). You have to think outside the bubble.