After an impressively brief period that gave them a handle on the customer reaction to their experiment, Google has now removed the silent ban on Windows Phone users attempting to access Google Maps. It might have taken less than two days for the whole debacle to play out, but the rapidity of the turnaround and the ridiculous statements from the company attempting to justify their actions make it clear that there was a bit more blowback than anticipated.
For those who haven’t been following closely, Google Maps became inexplicably inaccessible on Windows Phone devices and people began to complain. Google responded with the explanation 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.
Since none of this is new except for the inability of users to access the site, it didn’t really help the situation any. Despite attempts to pass it off as if there had never been Windows Phone access, everybody knew better and many Google Maps domains hadn’t registered the redirection yet.
After a great deal of customer complaining and no small number of critical news articles popping up around the web, Google announced that they plan to remove the redirection immediately. They now explain the situation by saying:
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.
The implication here would seem to be that previous versions of Internet Explorer didn’t perform well enough to justify supporting. That could perhaps be true, though personal experience with a number of WP7.5 devices indicates otherwise. It does not explain the sudden need to cut these users off, however.
Most importantly, the Google explanation seems to indicate that something has recently changed. If there was some sort of emergency browser optimization in the last couple days, it was accomplished very stealthily. Windows Phone devices are still acting the same way they were a week ago. Why did Google proceed with this action if their reasoning was purely motivated by browser compatibility and user experience concerns?
It’s fairly clear to everybody, I think, that Google was trying to take a bit out of their competition here. Windows Phone might not be an immediate threat to the Android market share, but if anybody is going to be aware of how precarious the position at the top is then the company that recently took that position away from long-time leader Apple would seem the likely choice. If they can cut Microsoft off before any momentum gets built up, so much the better.
For anybody who was caught in the middle of this Microsoft vs Google drama, order has been restored on at least one front. Google Maps are accessible, at least for the moment. Hopefully this will be the last such overtly hostile move for a while.