A Google Zombie iPhone?

With Android now on 75 percent of all smartphones sold, and Apple and Samsung battling in and out of court for the top vendor position, the smartphone wars usually come down to units sold. Apple vs. Samsung. Android vs. iOS. Less of a focus has been Google’s steady invasion of iOS, providing users with an alternative universe to most of the core features of Apple’s mobile operating system. The importance of Google’s ecosystem of iOS apps has never been more apparent than following the recent controversy over the removal of YouTube and Google Maps as default features of iOS. Apple realized the necessity of controlling key experiences on iOS, such as Maps, but it is running into a backlash from users in the process. It is not just facing competition from Android vendors; it is also now engaged in a struggle to keep Google from creating its own layer on top of iOS.

Google’s iOS apps are not just driving iPhone and iPad users to use Google services instead of Apple’s; they are increasingly an important aspect of the iOS experience for a large amount of users. Sixty-one percent of iOS users in our own polls said they were hesitant to even update to iOS 6 because of Apple’s new Maps app, many of which are still waiting for a standalone Google Maps app that Apple has yet to approve. Some say the Maps fiasco coupled with Siri might have even led to the departure of long-time iOS chief Scott Forstall, which many think could result in a new direction for iOS. What this means for Google’s presence on iOS going forward remains to be seen, but Apple does not appear to be ignoring the control Google’s apps have over its users.

Google has quickly been updating its arsenal of iOS apps—a selection that now provides the majority of Android’s flagship features in a little over a handful of increasingly integrated iOS apps. That…on top of the ability to open links from most of Google’s apps within the Chrome iOS app, Google is doing everything it can to keep iOS users inside its ecosystem even when not on its hardware. It’s an angle Apple doesn’t have, and for Google it’s working.

Apple’s App Store guidelines make it pretty clear it can reject any apps with features that too closely resemble default functionality of iOS. With that said, Google makes it easy to have an almost full-blown Google OS using what are essentially the Google or Android versions of core iOS apps. Gmail and Sparrow for mail, Google voice search for Siri, Drive for cloud, Chrome instead of Safari, Google Books, Google Play Music, Google Voice, Latitude, and hopefully soon, Google Maps for iOS. That’s not including the handful of Google apps that also replace popular third-party iOS apps like YouTube, Currents, Google+, and Google Shopper.

The question is how loyal are iOS users to Google services? Could you live without Google apps on your iPhone? How many iPhone users could be swayed into buying an Android device if iOS completely lacked any presence from Google or a downgraded Google experience compared to Android? That question could be an important one in the months and years to come if Apple continues to limit Google from providing alternatives to core iOS features on its platforms.

Recent reports indicate insiders at Google are not too optimistic about getting an Maps app approved anytime soon, which could be a sign of things to come for future releases and updates to existing Google apps. Google has also run into delays with Apple for recent updates to Google Voice Search and the recently acquired Sparrow app. Releasing a slick Google Maps iOS app that brings back the old stock iOS Maps experience and then some could, for many users, be the final nail in the coffin for Apple’s new Maps app. That’s a big problem for Apple, and it could be the reason we don’t see the app approved before Apple vastly improves its own Maps experience.

Maps isn’t the only experience that Apple needs to worry about. Yesterday, we saw Siri go up against Google’s updated Google Search iOS app that now includes the Google Now-like voice recognition previously only available on Android devices. Apple approved that feature for now, but what happens when future Google app updates are met with the same tension Google is reportedly experiencing with getting its iOS Maps app approved?

Google has good reason to keep up its presence on iOS devices apart from simply getting iPhone and iPad users to use Google services. As of last year, it was still pulling in two-thirds of its mobile search traffic from iOS users. That could obviously change quickly if Apple ever decides to drop Google as the default search engine. Apple decided to drop the “Google” text from within the search bar on Safari in iOS 6 and change it to simply “Search”. It’s a subtle change, and Google is still the default search engine, but search could very well be Apple’s next victim in fighting Google on its own territory.

How tied to Google services are you? Would you continue using iPhone over Android if iOS completely lacked Google services?

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