And so this situation is starting to get ridiculous – and consumers are, as usual, caught in the middle of it all. Google has just blocked Windows Phone devices from accessing Google Maps on their phones. In addition, it also seems Windows Phone users are now restricted to the basic HTML version of the mobile GMail website. While understandable from a defensive perspective – Microsoft’s extortion scheme targeting Android device makers and all that – it’s still a massive dick move that only hurts consumers. Update: the media attention has worked – Google is backpedalling, and will remove the redirect. “We periodically test Google Maps compatibility with mobile browsers to make sure we deliver the best experience for those users. In our last test, IE mobile still did not offer a good maps experience with no ability to pan or zoom and perform basic map functionality. As a result, we chose to continue to redirect IE mobile users to Google.com where they could at least make local searches. The Firefox mobile browser did offer a somewhat better user experience and that’s why there is no redirect for those users. Recent improvements to IE mobile and Google Maps now deliver a better experience and we are currently working to remove the redirect. We will continue to test Google Maps compatibility with other mobile browsers to ensure the best possible experience for users.”
The block is enforced through a simple redirect using the browser’s user agent. If the user agent includes ‘Windows Phone’ and visits the mobile version of Google Maps, the user is redirected to Google’s main page – no explanation, nothing. In addition, it seems a similar block has been put in place for mobile Gmail. I distinctly recall being able to access the full mobile Gmail web client on my HD7 running Windows Phone 7.x (confirmed by Peter Bright), while both my HD7 and my 8X are now limited to the crappy basic HTML version.
The assumption was first that this was a simple bug, unintentionally caused by changes by Google. It seemed hard to believe any company would stoop as low as to use a basic user agent-based redirects to prevent users from a perfectly capable browser from accessing its services. And yet, that’s exactly what Google is doing – it simply admitted to such in a statement to Gizmodo.
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.
The thing is – it worked just fine until the redirect. Probably not as optimally as it would on Chrome for Android or Safari for iOS, but it was hardly truly bad. In fact, you can still visit Google Maps on your WP device today through some links not yet blocked or by changing the user agent, and it seems to work well enough.
Microsoft responded to Google’s statement, stating that “Internet Explorer in Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 use the same rendering engine” – Maps works fine in Windows 8’s IE10. However, that’s the desktop version of Google Maps, whereas this is all about the mobile version.
Google’s move is understandable. Microsoft’s sleazy extortion racket has forced many Android vendors to pay for Microsoft’s crappy software patents, so it only makes sense for Google to retaliate in some way. The extortion scheme was already incredibly consumer-hostile, since it increases handset price, but this move by Google is probably even worse from a consumer standpoint since entire services are being blocked and/or limited.
Google has no obligation to make Maps work under the mobile Trident browsing engine – just like Microsoft has no obligation to make its stuff work under Android or Linux – but actively blocking it is an entirely different ballgame. It’s pathetic, childish, and only hurts legitimate consumers who have nothing to do with multi-billion dollar corporations having a penis size contest.