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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Comments (52)

  • MarcSilverTriple

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    So Google is lying. If they are lying on this, they might be also lying on the search trends in favor of their own products. At the end, could we still do a Google search with confidence on unbiased results?

    Reply

  • Joe

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    Of course they’re lying. The desktop IE can access maps.google.com perfectly. The mobile version can’t, even though it uses the exact same rendering engine as the desktop version. Also, the mobile IE could access maps.google.com before Google did this. I wonder why they didn’t block the desktop IE? Could it be that the desktop IE has hundreds of millions of users.

    Of course, nobody even mentions the fact that Firefox doesn’t use Webkit either, but it can perfectly access maps.google.com. It’s also hilarious that Windows Phone can still access and use maps.google.com in Europe because Google is scared shitless about how the EU would react.

    Reply

  • chris maddocks

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    Google maps uk or .com doesn’t work for me in the uk. So its looking like the world has been blocked. I think google are heading for a hefty fine at this rate

    Reply

  • Ben

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    For me It’s not working by changing the user agent of the webrowser control. Maybe Google changed it

    Reply

  • JustMe

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    An even easier test – Simply use User Agent Switcher on WP to change the user agent string. It proves the point perfectly that Google is purely evil here and that their flimsy excuse is just a lie.

    Reply

  • MarcSilverTriple

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    From France, I got redirected as well with both maps.google.com and maps.google.fr on my Windows Phone… So this might be also true among others european countries.

    Reply

  • Leon Zandman

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    Fiddler has built-in User Agent switching support. You don’t need to alter the script yourself. Look in the menu’s.

    Reply

  • Tom

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    Has anyone tested all the features of mobile Google maps in these tests and compared it to the performance of a web kit browser? Google maps is more than just displaying a map. If any features break or if performance is impacted then Google has the right to redirect away without being evil. Otherwise, if the entire experience is the same then they are being evil.

    Reply

  • Googles Kampf gegen Windows 8 und Windows Phone | Win 8

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    [...] Tom Verhoeff beweist auch in seinem Blog, dass Google Maps ohne Probleme auf Windows Phone funktioniert, wenn man nur den User-Agent verändert und Google ein anderes Gerät vortäuscht. Google scheint im User-Agent nach Windows Phone zu suchen und dann zu blocken, da sobald man Windows Phone in einen beliebigen User-Agent schreibt Google Maps nicht mehr funktioniert. [...]

    Reply

  • Sun_Wukong

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    A check on Nokia N9 (MeeGo) and 700 (Symbian Belle) generic webkit browsers yield the same results. Greed-gle is blocking all the mobile browsers except those of iOS and android.

    Reply

  • NewUser

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    Just downloaded User Agent and accessed maps.google.com as both an iPhone and Android device. In both cases, access was fine but functionality was NOT. Main problem: I was not able to drag-move-zoom around within the map itself. Zooming in enlarged the entire site so that controls at the top of the page zoomed out of view. Ditto to moving: instead of the map moving around within its window while the controls remained stationary, the entire page moved around.

    Reply

  • NewUser

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    Should have also included my phone info: HTC Trophy running WP7.5

    Reply

  • Paul

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    Google maps still work if you switch the browser preference in WP from mobile to desktop. Proves Google are trying to be the biggest dicks in the tech industry.

    Reply

  • Kevin

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    Thanks for exposing their lies. I’m no fan of Microsoft or any other big company. Big companies tend to mislead and play dirty tricks.

    What gets me is that Google pretends to be holier than thou, and so many people believe it.

    I’ll start using Google products again if they issue the following statement:

    “We are no more or less evil than Microsoft. We retract that stupid ‘Don’t be Evil’ slogan. Please only trust us to the same extent you trust other tech giants.”

    Reply

  • Leon Zandman

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    I (again) did some testing and that non-static mobile Google Maps site
    does work on WP8. But not 100%. And that’s the crucial part everyone seems to miss…

    For instance, it can center on your current location on the map, but
    it doesn’t show the cursor. Also the Directions input screen has weird
    behaviour. And the Street View screen doesn’t have the Close button
    that I do get when viewed on an iPad.

    Of course Google could easily fix this, by addressing specific IE
    issues. But until they do it looks like there is a case to be made for
    Google NOT offering this mess to Windows Phone users: it’s simply a
    bad user experience.

    This also means they didn’t lie in their
    statement. That site is optimized for WebKit and not for (mobile) IE.

    People claiming that it works fine on IE10 on Win8 are probably
    talking about the full Google Maps site, instead of that mobile one. I don’t have a Windows 8 machine available, so I
    cannot test this myself. Also, while IE 10 and WP8 IE share the same
    rendering engine, there are several differences/limitations in WP8 IE.

    Reply

  • jelcoh

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    I have done some simple tests on my Meego Harmaatan Nokia N9 and found out that I am redirected to google search with my webkit browser.
    When using firefox with different use agents ad iexplorer or android phone or android tablet, I can view maps. However, if change the user agent to Firefox OS, I was redirected to the search engine!
    So My conclusion is Google indeed does not like non Android mobile operating systems. Then again it’s typical Microsoft and their fanboys to think they are a big and important mobile OS that is deliberately ignored by Google. Probably they are regarded as equally unimportant as Symbian, Meego, Bada, an Firefox OS. Maybe thats the thing a company like Microsoft hurts the most.

    Reply

  • Prior Semblance

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    If the full maps site works fine then why not redirect the mobile one to that instead of completely blocking people?

    Reply

  • Tom

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    “If the full maps site works fine then why not redirect the mobile one to that instead…”

    Because it doesn’t work fine. It’s a desktop app running on a mobile browser. It’s a pain in the ass. The reason Google allows it on Android and iOS is because those users have an optimized mobile version to fall back on. WP users don’t have any good options because of Microsoft’s stubbornness. It’s better to redirect than have people complaining about the shitty experience. Anyone that wants to use it regardless can change their user agent string anyway.

    Reply

  • rabit1

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    Google should remember. Where would it be if there’s no Microsoft in the first place. What happened if Google services are blocked by Microsoft in the beginning?

    Mark of a great company is fair competition, don’t forget where you came from but look forward for the future

    Reply

  • James

    |

    This is my take:

    1. Mobile view for maps is developed and targeted at webkit because the trident engine has <<1% market share (and even that’s from winmo devices).

    2. Mobile view has extremely low priority for development because android and iOS are already covered. It gets very few updates and only receives attention recently because of apple map’s debacle.

    3. During the apple maps debacle, maps got a major update so QA tests were run and windows phone failed or preformed very poorly. They probably only had WP7.5 devices as the WP8 launch/device availability is relatively recent. The results get put into a report and sent to the maps mobile team who decide to redirect WP users if they try to access the mobile maps node.

    4. Some time later they update the redirect scripts to point at new/changed nodes and apply updates/bugfixes. One of these changes is a n updated user agent parser/interpreter. The effect of this update is to redirect WP users (correctly) to the mobile nodes.

    Now, when a WP user visits maps.google.com they are directed to the mobile node instead of the desktop node. The mobile nodes then redirects the user to the home page because it failed the quality check for the mobile view. The desktop view is never served because the request never passes through to the desktop node.

    Reply

  • salmanshah

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    I can open maps.google.com through User Agent Switch in my LUMIA 800. And it is working fine as Google chrome on PC.

    Reply

  • Bill

    |

    …”but it does not show the cursor”.

    Don’t cursors usually correlate to mice? Maybe it is just me, but I have never attached a mouse to my phone.

    Reply

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  • Tony

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    Yes does seem rather unfair to the competition if you ask me!

    Reply

  • Frangoo

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    Hello,
    I just know stepped into the google-maps-problem on windows-phone. Does anyone knows or has experiences on that topic?
    Because I can not make my map work proper in the browser, and I am wondering if it is because the google-api is not fully supporting that for Window Phone.

    Thanks and regards….

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