when the iPhone was released almost three years ago, apple and google had a love affair going on, google optimized their youtube videos for iPhone delivery and allowed google maps to work well with the native maps app. this love affair ended when google put more efforts into android, and while there still is the google-driven maps app on the iPhone, it essentially never has been updated since the first release, and maybe never will be updated, because that would probably require cooperation between apple and google.
apple acquired an alternative mapping provider (placebase) in july 2009, and at some point in time will probably switch over a lot of location- and mapping-oriented functionality to this non-google provider.
from google's point of view, this means that the google-driven maps app in the iPhone will probably be removed at some point in time. this means that google has to work harder to get to iPhone users through other channels, meaning their own native google maps app (which apple might just reject in the same way they rejected the google latitude iPhone app), or better iPhone support in their web apps.
when google released the terrain view in late 2007, i was hoping it would soon show up as a new layer in the iPhone maps app. it never did, and now it very likely never will. but i recently noticed that google's web pages seem to be optimized much better for the iPhone than they were a while ago. this map to our school has been produced with google my maps, and it now works beautifully in mobile safari (the QR code on the left will take you to the map), with a pinch-friendly interface. and: there's a
terrain button! this comes as a surprise because this is the first time i have seen google terrain imagery on the iPhone, and i am wondering whether i am just slow in noticing, or whether that really is fairly new.
ironically, Google Maps for Mobile still claims that certain features, such as "my maps", do not work on the iPhone (they do not even list the terrain view), and they still don't (in the maps app), but now they do in the browser. but only partially and not well-connected, which probably just means that different developer teams at google came up with different ways of implementing web-based mapping for the iPhone. following the above direct view to the my maps page, you get a very different rendering than following the link to the generic web-based mobile version (the QR code on the right will take you to the maps for mobile), where there is neither support for my maps, nor a terrain view. it seems that google is slowly but surely improving the web-based capabilities of its mapping offerings for the iPhone.
of course, since google is limited to web-based applications, all code has to use scripting, and on my 3G (i.e., non-3GS) iPhone, the scripting-based mapping is noticeably slower than the native app. regardless of that, it'll be interesting to see how google develops and optimizes its web-based mapping offerings for the iPhone, and the
hidden terrain view may be a sign of things to come: better web-based apps for google map services.
from the coding side of things, adding
my maps to the maps app would have been non-trivial anyway, because pre-iPhone-OS-4, MapKit support for anything beyond points is non-existent. this will change with OS 4, but using the web-based approach, google already can take advantage of the support WebKit provides for rendering graphical objects.
[[ PS april 21: the
my maps view also sort of works in mobile chrome, but pinch-to-zoom does not work. this is probably implemented by some safari-specific scripting in the code which does not support chrome. until the W3C comes up with standardized events for multitouch interactions, there probably is no way how this behavior can be easily and reliably supported across browsers. ]]