Google’s vendetta against iPhone

Matthew JC. Powell
20 September, 2008
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The headline on this article is slightly misleading. Google doesn’t have a vendetta against the iPhone, at least as far as I am aware. Sure, it recently updated its maps application for Java-based mobile platforms like BlackBerry and not for iPhone — but that’s mostly Apple’s fault and I can’t blame Google. However, I now have conclusive proff that Google has it in for me. And its weapon is Maps.

I started to get a little suspicious a few months ago, when trying to find a shortcut from home to a favourite Chinese restaurant. I knew the way I normally went, sticking to main roads, wasn’t the ideal, buit I never worried too much. With Google Maps and a GPS-enabled iPhone, though, I thought I could save petrol and time, and buy an extra plate of freshly-made Shanghai dumplings with the money I saved.

Sure enough, Google Maps found a shortcut. It involved taking a right turn about a kilometre sooner than I normally would. Cool, right?

When I got to the point where it wanted me to turn, there was a median strip and three lanes of oncoming traffic. In other words, not the ideal environment for a right turn.

Sure, that was a mistake. Any software can make a mistake, right? Right.

Another day, I told it to guide me to the Auburn Botanic Gardens. I don’t know the area at all, so I really was depending on Google Maps to get me there. I followed its instructions, to the letter, up to the point where it indicated I had arrived at my destination.

It was a dead-end street, facing a chain-link fence on which were silhouettes of vicious-looking dogs hinting at what might happen should I try to exit my vehicle.

No, that was not the Auburn Botanic Gardens. Clearly, Google Maps had it in for me.

When Google launched Street View in Australia (a feature presently only on the desktop version of Google Maps — and also included in that update for Java-based smartphones that we iPhone owners just have to wait for) I looked up my house. Just as, I imagine, everyone with an internet connection did on the day.

There, in front of my house, was my beat-up old 1993 Volvo. I have a sentimental attachment to it, what can I say.

Then I looked up my father’s house. There, parked out the front, was my Volvo. Interesting coincidence, no? Google’s Street View is compiled by a fleet of cars driving around taking photos with specially-designed panoramic photo gear. I’ve never actually seen the vehicles, but clearly they’ve gone past two houses I was inside.

Did I say two? Actually, I looked up my mother-in-law’s house as well, and there was the Volvo again. So that’s three.

In fact, I’ve found my car in front of five different places that I go regularly. That’s not coincidence, that’s conspiracy. Google is following me around. It’s probably watching me as I type these very words.

Or maybe Google isn’t following me around, so much as guiding me to where it wants me to be so it can take pics of my Volvo. Takes all kinds, after all.

Today, I needed to get to an address in Sydney’s northern suburbs with which I was unfamiliar. As I often do, I programmed the route into Google Maps and handed the iPhone to my wife, so she could guide me with the turn-by-turn directions that the iPhone itself cannot yet provide.

Heading north on Silverwater Road, I followed the instruction to make a “slight left” on Kissing Point Road. A while later, I asked my wife when the next turn would be, and she replied “I don’t know — we’re off the map”. I pulled over and saw, to my horror, that we were no longer on our way to Normanhurst as planned.

From that point on I stopped following Google’s directions. I got out a plain old paper street directory and found my way to my destination. I also used the old-school directory to find my way home, and discovered I needn’t have been anywhere near Silverwater Road.

I have no idea where I might have ended up if I’d let Google continue guiding me. Facing oncoming traffic? Maybe. Savaged by dogs? Possibly. Where I wanted to be?

No way.

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