Google, Flickr - and the app wars

Google Maps

Two apps for Apple's iPhone have been released in the last 24 hours. Nothing surprising in that - there are millions out there already. But Google Maps and the Flickr iPhone app each tell us an interesting story about where power lies in today's mobile world.

Google's app is a victory for the search firm in its increasingly acrimonious battle with Apple.

When the iPhone 5 and the latest mobile operating system were launched in September, they came without Google Maps, as Apple set about launching its own mapping ecosystem.

The intent was to free itself from a maps app which was consistently offering a better experience to Android users rather than those who prefer iPhone, but the result, as rapidly became clear, was a fiasco.

The data was just not accurate enough - even this week Australian police went as far as to say Apple Maps was dangerous - and it resulted in a corporate upheaval at Apple.

Now Google has released its new maps app and Apple has approved it. The company could hardly do otherwise, after its CEO Tim Cook encouraged users to try other apps while its own system was improved.

It means that iPhone users can once again use Google Streetview, and there are other improvements - turn-by-turn, voice-guided navigation, long available on Android, now comes to the iPhone, and there's a fresher look to the maps.

Apple has been working to improve its service, and I found at the weekend, after months of frustration, that it was surprisingly good at navigating me across London. It also has a 3D view which to some users may feel more useful than Streetview.

But what will matter to most users is the relative accuracy of the two systems. Search for Luton on Apple, and you will still be directed first to a village in Devon, rather than the town north of London that Google finds. Look for Mottingham station in London, and Google directs you there, while Apple's first offer is a local shop.

What will happen next? While Apple Maps remains the default option, inertia will mean that many users stick with it. But expect Google Maps to climb rapidly to number one in the App Store charts.

It is interesting to note that you are encouraged to sign in with your Google account when you install the app - the search firm is keen both to reinforce its relationship with users and to improve its data collection.


So Google will be happy this morning, while the Apple army in Cupertino will be plotting revenge. Meanwhile another big name in the web world - Yahoo - is playing catch-up in the mobile market, as it relaunches its Flickr app for the iPhone.

Flickr was once universally recognised as the original and best online photo management service, used by professional and amateur photographers as the place to store and display their best work.

Its users are still fiercely loyal, although many complain that it has suffered under Yahoo's stewardship, which is strange, as it has been owned by the company for most of its life.

But since 2005, when Flickr began, the world of online photos has been transformed by social networking. Facebook and its new property Instagram, with its flashy filters, have become the default way of sharing snaps online.

Flickr users have been sniffy about the point'n'shoot crowd who post black and white images of their lunch on Instagram, but Yahoo looked on with envy as a billion dollar business was created from nothing.

Now the new Flickr iPhone app comes with a range of filters and easy social media sharing options in what looks like a belated attempt to catch up.

Is it too late? Maybe - except for one thing.

Twitter and Instagram have been at loggerheads ever since the photo service was acquired by Facebook.

In recent days, Instagram pictures shared on Twitter have no longer popped up - you have to head over to its site instead. By contrast, Flickr photos taken with the new app, pop up prettily on Twitter.

In this fast-changing world, the likes of Google and Apple, Facebook and Yahoo, are friends one moment, foes the next. As the world goes mobile, there are huge sums at stake, and maps and photo are key battlegrounds.

As consumers, we can just sit back and enjoy the spectacle as these companies fight for our business.

Rory Cellan-Jones, Technology correspondent Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    They (apple) are and continue to be corporate bully boys who avoid lawful tax and stick it to their customers with inferior technology and charge through the roof for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    @ giovanna

    Distros such as Ubuntu and Mint are perfectly fine for most people.

    I wouldn't say most open source software is as good as closed source counterparts. While the likes of OpenOffice get the job done, Microsoft Office is nicer to use (and not, imho as ugly).

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.


    - Maps that can kill you in Australia,
    - Non-replacable batteries ,
    - Siri
    - Antenna that are blocked if you hold your phone wrong,
    - Screens that shatter if you tap them,
    - Being locked in to iTunes just for buying a device,
    - Guaranteed to be the most expensive device on the market,

    I own both, and the advantages of Android are more than just a customizable UI.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    69. tonbar "Linux is rubbish for normal technology users"

    That comment is in itself rubbish.
    Linux is a perfectly good operating system with an extensive set of applications that are often better than their costly counterparts - Open Office / Libre Office being just two examples.
    I use Linux (Debian 6) on all of my desktop and laptop machines. It is faster and less complex than Windows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    biscuitlad wrote:

    "The problem with the BBC is that they are unaware of what Android offers."

    Like what, malware, inferior apps of lower quality, very few tablet apps, fragmentation, few updates, phones and tablets with poor resale value, poor support and customer service?

    Is having a more customizable interface worth all that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    "Google's app is a victory for the search firm"

    How so? Google didn't even want to offer Apple turn by turn navigation. Google putting out its own app that offers that service shows they lost in the end. Apple went its own way with its own maps and Google had no choice but to admit it needed Apple's customers. After all, in the end, Google is an ad company. It needs eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.


    Apple screwed up, NASA too.

    The BBC has not (in this case).

    The BBC is not generally know for Apple-bashing, quite the opposite in fact.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    @BluesBerry #94

    > neither do I get where all these (usually) young people get all
    > this money.

    Payday loans. There's an app for that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    I hate these wars.
    I hate the big line-ups round the block that occur to dish out money for each & every little tweak. I just don't get it; neither do I get where all these (usually) young people get all this money.
    I guess this is part of stimulating the economy, which really means go out & buy more junk. That’s fixing the problem by adding to the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Couldn't agree more. Blatant abuse of patent law, never meant as a corporate WMD, to the detriment of the consumer. I had to get a smartphone for personal use recently. I had never really thought much about Andriod until all the free publicity the recent court case has afforded Samsung. I'm delighted with the Galaxy S3 I now have and Google maps works superbly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Nokia Maps has no equal. It is all you can ever wish for when you need to find your way around. Google is ok.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    87 Aidy

    I don't think he did "dictate", though, did he? He just said what he used and how he found it. I use Windows 7 at work and Linux on a couple of machines at home. Personally, I still prefer Windows for most stuff but that doesn't mean I believe that everybody should use it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    88 NoWombats,

    Sorry for being a real pedant (far worse than you), but there are millions of them out there, 0.75 millions by your count,

    Apologies, and down votes accepted with humility :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    It just doesn't work! I see the tower crumbling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    BTW, sorry for being a pedant - but there are NOT "millions" of IPhone apps "out there already". In fact it's more like 750.000 or something.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    @RingSting #78

    Yes...that's exactly what I said...he doesn't actually use the OS, he just uses it to browse the net, so is hardly in a position to dictate to us which OSs we should be using when he doesn't use the one he has!

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    How many people really use the Apple map that it is fundamental to there overall experience of there phone or pad..? I have found the Apple map to be useless for my business needs but have simply gone to google to to do what I have always done. Please stop whinge-ing, ironically but especially those non-Apple owners. I trust Apple will will sort out there maps or I have a choice to buy elsewhere?

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    @stereotonic Simply not True! Apple is even worse at avoiding taxes. Look into it. You, like many, assume they pay because someone they have avoided bad publicity over it. BBC editors reading this: why have Apple's massive tax avoidance not been mentioned in the press? Making people like stereotonic assume Apple pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Tim Cook fired the head of mapping. Yet it was really his fault, anyone should have known that a mapping system a year old would likely have had bugs in it, and looked into it very seriously to make sure it was right HIMSELF. I am certain Steve Jobs would have done this, he was anal over checking things in all details and making everything perfect. Why does Tim Cook get away it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I go for the one that pays its taxes instead of burdening the likes of us with it


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