Breaking down the Google Maps – Windows Phone issue

Written by Tom Verhoeff on. Posted in Windows Phone

Update: After the whole uproar caused by this and other posts around the web Google decided to revert back to the old situation. I hope it also showed Google that a lot of Windows Phone users do like Google’s services and that they should see if improving the whole experience is possible. Turns out they’re not that evil in this case after all. Head over to The Verge for more details.

The original article was posted when Google Maps was inaccessible to Windows Phone users.

Yesterday reports started showing up that Google is redirecting all Windows Phone users away from the mobile Google Maps website. There’s been quite some discussion on why Google is doing this. Are they doing it to mock Windows Phone users? Or is IE10 mobile just not capable of rendering Google Maps the right way?

Here’s Google’s official statement:
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.
I used Google Maps before occasionally (Nokia Maps for Windows Phone does it’s job, so you won’t need Google anyway) and although the experience wasn’t perfect it definitely worked. Microsoft responded to Google’s statement with a very simple and clear statement:
Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 use the same rendering engine
I ran a few experiments to see what is really going on here.

Google Maps on Windows Phone with an Android UserAgent

Google is detecting Windows Phones by their User Agent. By running my connection through a proxy and using a script to present a different UserAgent I tried to open Google Maps. Not surprisingly it just worked. I used this UserAgent:
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.3.4; fr-fr; HTC Desire Build/GRJ22) AppleWebKit/533.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/533.1
Want to try this yourself? Use Fiddler! Through Rules -> Customize rules you get to a textfile specifying scripts dat Fiddler runs when processing network calls. Adding oSession.oRequest["User-Agent"]=”Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 2.3.4; fr-fr; HTC Desire Build/GRJ22) AppleWebKit/533.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/4.0 Mobile Safari/533.1″; to the OnBeforeRequest part changes the UserAgent on all webrequests.

Playing around with Google Chrome

On Twitter some users reported that Google is just detecting the string “Windows Phone” disregarding any other information. This was obviously worth a try, so I moved to my desktop browser (Chrome). This is the UserAgent of Google Chrome on my desktop:
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.2; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.11 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/23.0.1271.97 Safari/537.11
To give it a shot I added “Windows Phone” to this string:
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.2; WOW64) AppleWebKit/537.11 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/23.0.1271.97 Safari/537.11 Windows Phone
Now navigating to Google Maps again I got redirected away.

Another experiment

Matthias Shapiro uploaded a video to YouTube where he proves the same point. Using a WebView within a Windows Phone app you can manually specify a UserAgent. Here’s what happened:

 So what does this mean?

Google’s own statement suggests that not supporting WebKit is the problem here, however the experiments mentioned show that there doesn’t appear to be any real problems. Combine this fact with some other recent development like Google removing ActiveSync support for Gmail users and Google still blocking a fully featured YouTube app for Windows Phone. It just shows that Google is just mocking Windows Phone and its users, something TheNextWeb also realized. It’s just another chapter in the ecosystem war. It’s also worth noting that 3rd party Google Maps apps for Windows Phone like gMaps still work.

Do we care?

The real victims here are the regular Windows Phone users. If they happen to use GMail they want to get it on their phones, if they happen to need Google Maps they just want to access it. Fortunately Gmail still works for current users and I’m counting on Microsoft to provide a decent solution in the future. For the Google Maps part I actually really don’t care. Nokia Maps for Windows Phone is native, it has a great experience and offers practically all the features that I would use with Google Maps (maps, traffic info, local search, etc.). But for a company like Google that says:
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
All those moves appear to be a bit sad. Google was always praised for it’s openness, but they’re acting more and more like Microsoft was back in the 90s (and that’s NOT a good thing)

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