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Apple cedes US dominance to Japan and China

"Apple Maps is the worst-received new product to come out of Cupertino since the 1993 launch of the Newton...the child of a nasty divorce between two of the world's most powerful companies." "

-- Forbes magazine

Those two companies are Google and Apple. Last month, Apple released the latest version of its iPhone OS and scrapped Google Maps as a native application for its iPhone line, replacing it with their own app, called Maps.

Google's Android is the main competitor for Apple's iOS in the mobile space, and some have said that Apple needed a mapping application to avoid falling behind in this sector. But Cupertino's move has backfired.

How bad is Maps? After vociferous complaints, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an official apology for the company's app: "We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers," he wrote in a statement to users. Cook even suggested iPhone users switch to products from Apple's competitors: "While we're improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps."

Apple's brand-image has taken a global hit. Tech firms in the world's #2 and #3 economies, China and Japan, have already benefited from Apple's much-maligned app.

Cupertino's misstep has paid dividends for other global-mapping firms. Japanese customers, while bemused by the failings of Maps, already have a better option.

"Mapion is one of Japan's homegrown companies benefiting from Apple's Maps debacle, which has left local owners of the new iPhone 5 flummoxed over erroneous place names, long-outdated landmarks and train stations that appear to hover in the middle of the sea," wrote Hiroko Tabuchi in the New York Times. "Those errors have prompted legions of users to flock to other map services, including Mapion, which seized the day by promoting a map app it says is among the most obsessively checked and updated in Japan."

Tabuchi reports that downloads of the Mapion iPhone app, which debuted this June, have tripled since the launch of iOS 6. "Apple's Maps have been a disappointment from the start," she wrote. "In central Tokyo, they show a busy Shinjuku subway station in the middle of serene Shinjuku Gyoen park, one of many errors diligently cataloged by Japanese bloggers. The Hinode monorail stop hovers above the waters of Tokyo Bay, which is erroneously labeled 'the North Pacific'."

The Apple's Maps view of the Pearl River Delta is murky when accessed via Hong Kong and Macau telco service providers. But, according to a blog-post on the Wall Street Journal's site, Apple leveraged the services of a Chinese mapping company which benefits users with SIM cards from Chinese telcos.

"When Apple released iOS 6...customers in China found more detailed maps covering their country than those overseas," said the WSJ blog, "in part because their data is provided by AutoNavi Holdings, a Chinese mapping company that makes auto navigation systems as well as virtual maps and satellite images." The blog-post adds that "AutoNavi is the most widely used mobile mapping service in China, with 45% market share, according to Analysys International."

On HK/Macau telcos, Maps shows Zhuhai and Shenzhen as blank expanses of beige with a few white lines--China's SEZs look like deserts.

But Yunnan-based blogger Anthony Drendel, who uses China Unicom, says Maps trumps Google Maps. "AutoNavi is a local Chinese company that provides very detailed maps of China," wrote Drendel. "Google was never going to be able to map China as well as it has other parts of the globe because the Chinese government doesn't trust the motives of foreign companies--and it especially doesn't trust Google."

Closer to home, Maps has stripped Hong Kong of its MTR exits, reduced our urbanscape to glib swathes of beige and white, and consigned most of Hong Kong's Chinese-names to the dustbin of history. If you haven't switched to iOS6 yet, stick with iOS5 until, as Cook promises, Apple improves this half-baked mobile application, which currently looks like a beta-release.

If you've already switched, well, at least Maps provides some entertainment value. The Apple Map app can't map the Apple store they just put on Hong Kong's map. Search "Apple store Kowloon Tong Hong Kong" on a Hong Kong telco and it pins it on Renfrew Street near LoK Fu Park [sic]. Type "Hong Kong Festival Walk" into the app and you get a big dialog box reading "No Results Found."

Google Maps finds the Apple Store on Tat Chee Avenue.

Try searching for "HMV Hong Kong" and check this data-feed nonsense:

"HMV the music &

movie mastor

China

Hong Kong Tebie

Administration Area

No.310 Tongluowan

Gaoshida Road"

No idea what that means, but the HMV is where it always was: up the escalator near the Park Lane Hotel and Ikea in Causeway Bay.

By the way, Google Maps still works on the iPhone via the Safari browser, though users may prefer Google's Chrome browser-app...which can be downloaded free from Apple's iTunes store.

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