Home opinion-and-analysis Fuzzy Logic Go ogle Maps on Windows Phone - soon?

Go ogle Maps on Windows Phone - soon?

Although Google is a relative newcomer to the world of mobile phones, its Android OS is now the most popular in the world, with Google doing its utmost to screw Windows Phone users right royally.

I’ve recently ported one of my phone numbers to Kogan Mobile, but have had to seek the carrier unlocking of my iPhone before the Kogan Mobile SIM would work, which is taking a few days.

In the meantime, I’ve dug up an HTC HD7 – an original Windows Phone 7 that has been upgraded to Windows Phone 7.5, because it was unlocked, and until my carrier unlock comes through, I’ve been looking at the world through Windows Phone eyes, upon which Kogan's Telstra-powered SIM has been working exceptionally nicely, better than I could have hoped for from a wholesaled 3G network.

However, one thing I noticed right away when browsing the web and using Gmail, is that Gmail looks like it did several years ago on my Nokia N95 browser - disgustingly awful and basic, like Google just isn’t even trying to deliver a nice experience – not even half-heartedly.

I did find some Gmail addresses that would give Gmail the look from iPhone Gmail from about 3 years ago, although the “inbox” button to take you back to the folder list doesn’t work.

When I saw all of this, I was disgusted at Google making so little effort for Windows Phone, simply because it has its own Android system, and even though Microsoft has surely done all kinds of similar things throughout its lifetime to screw with other companies.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, of course, and neither does the fact that Windows Phone users typing “maps.google.com” into their browsers find themselves shunted off to Google’s hopelessly outdated looking Google.com home page on Windows Phone devices.

Now, as I’ve primarily been an iPhone and Android user for some time now, having left Windows Mobile and Windows Phones to their devices, this hasn’t really concerned me until recently, now that I’m using a Windows Phone device.

But it also shows just how badly Windows Phone users have had it from companies like Google thus far, and it’s interesting to see that a global outcry has forced Google to actually do something about it.

The Verge posted an article in the past couple of days entitled “Windows Phone 8 users unable to access Google Maps”, which complained about Google Maps not being available for Windows Phone, and listed Gizmodo's quote from Google stating that: “The mobile web version of Google Maps is optimized for WebKit browsers such as Chrome and Safari. However, since Internet Explorer is not a WebKit browser, Windows Phone devices are not able to access Google Maps for the mobile web.

Gizmodo posted an updated from Microsoft stating: “Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 use the same rendering engine."

What’s even more interesting is that people have discovered that Google has been blocking access to Google Maps based on the Windows Phone 8 browser identifying itself as such, with developers able to change the browser identification to something else, whereupon Google Maps worked – even if imperfectly.

The Verge then posted a follow up article entitled “Google brings maps back to Windows Phone", and quoted Google saying that following: “We periodically test Google Maps compatibility with mobile browsers to make sure we deliver the best experience for those users.

In our last test, IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality. 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.

Recent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect. We will continue to test Google Maps compatibility with other mobile browsers to ensure the best possible experience for users."

Of course, given Microsoft’s statement that Windows Phone IE 8 and desktop IE 8 have the same rendering engine, you have to ask which “recent improvements” to IE that Google’s talking about.

Presumably they are imaginary improvements that Google’s anti-competitive division decided were improved enough to start supporting.

It has to be said that Microsoft has Bing Maps which competes with Google Maps, but if Google is making money from advertising – which pollutes even Google Maps these days – then it shouldn’t matter which platform Google Maps is viewed on.

There’s also concerns that Google won’t give Microsoft proper access to YouTube. It also makes you wonder how many other Google services just aren’t working properly on Windows Phones, webkit browsers or no.

Perhaps Google could offer its Chrome browser on the Windows Phone store – if Microsoft isn’t, of course, blocking Google from doing so, just as Microsoft is blocking Google and Mozilla from offering browsers that run on the Windows RT operating system.

Yes – all of these companies are screwing the other – and we, the users, in various ways, and it’s good to see that some good, old fashioned media spotlighting and end-user outrage can get even monoliths like Google to support monoliths like Microsoft.

It’s time to finish this article with Kamahl’s unanswerable question: why can’t we all just get along?


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.