Why Google Is Right to Block Google Maps on Windows Phone 8

There's no "controversy" here and if there is, it's been going on for years

By on January 5th, 2013 13:01 GMT

With the YouTube Windows app "controversy" about to blow over, we've got a new one to keep us occupied. At least this one is somewhat more recent, apparently Google has started redirecting or rather blocking Windows Phone users from accessing the mobile web version of Google Maps.

Google Maps has never been officially "supported" on Windows Phone, Google claims, but users weren't turned away if they visited the site. That's not the case anymore.

 The move led to a lot of back and forth. First there was an uproar about Google's move. Then Google came out and said that it's nothing new, the mobile Google Maps is optimized for WebKit browsers, i.e. those on Android and iOS, and not Windows Phone.

Microsoft shot back by arguing that IE uses the same core in Windows Phone 8 as in Windows 8 so there shouldn't be a compatibility problem since Google Maps obviously works in IE10 on Windows 8.

That's a bit disingenuous though, since Microsoft is neglecting to mention that the Google Maps that works on Windows 8 is not the same Google Maps that doesn't work on Windows Phone, one is the desktop site the other is the mobile one.

That alone should settle it, Google can't be obligated to "support" platforms it doesn't want to and with Windows Phone's abysmal market share, you can't blame it.

Incidentally, none of the blogs that picked up Microsoft's reply made the distinction between the mobile and desktop versions of the site.

There is the problem, though, of blocking IE users rather than just not offering official support. Google and every other major website only supports a strict number of browsers.

In fact, Google is quite aggressive, it only supports the last two stable versions of any browser, so in many cases IE8 is unsupported on the desktop.

What Google means by "unsupported" is that it doesn't design and test its sites with the browsers it doesn't support. This is to save money and time and it makes sense, there's no point in using up resources for something used by very few people.

Apart from obsolete versions of popular browsers, less popular browsers are also unsupported. Go to Google Docs in Opera and you'll find that you're not welcomed. Even Google Search blocks some features for Opera users.

That's exactly what Google is doing with IE10 on Windows Phone 8, a niche operating system to say the least.

Now, the caveat is that Opera users for example can still get the sites they want by either spoofing their user agent, i.e. claiming they're using Chrome or Firefox, or by simply acknowledging the fact that there's no official support so if something breaks, it's on them.

In fact, if you switch to the desktop mode in IE10 for Windows Phone 8, leading sites to believe that you're using the desktop version of the browser, Google Maps will work, but you'll get the desktop version of the site.

Google Maps mobile still works on Windows Phone 8 in some cases, reportedly, for example in the UK. But that doesn't necessarily mean that Google is evil in blocking Windows Phone users, it simply can't promise that the site will work and would rather turn users away and offer them a broken experience.

Obviously, if you're inclined to believe that Google is evil or that Microsoft is the Saint Mary of tech companies, you could argue that Google's move isn't particularly nice. But it certainly isn't very controversial, it's something that's been happening for ages and that Microsoft, Facebook and everyone else does as well.

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